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Liz backed up, checking her wristwatch. They were dressed similarly in gabardine skirts and jackets with white silk shells beneath. Elise's "power suit" was a soft salmon; Liz was wearing navy.
"I've got ten minutes," Liz said. "New clients coming in to look at the condos at Mallory Bay."
Elise grabbed one of the copies the machine had spit out. "Here we go. The checklist I was telling you about that I found in that book."
"Not another self-help book." Liz lifted a skeptical eyebrow as she picked up a book from beside the copier and read the spine. "The Husband Finder?"
Elise shrugged. "So it has a bad title, listen to this." She opened it to the first chapter. "According to the author ... "Women today spend more time researching the cars they purchase than the men they marry. When an educated, career-oriented woman of the new millennium buys a car, she makes a list of the qualities she is looking for such as good value for the money, gas mileage, aesthetics, etc. Then, she test drives various cars and rates them according to her list of requirements. She purchases the car that best suits her. A woman should seek a husband in the same logical manner."
"You've got to be kidding me," Liz muttered.
"Like buying a car?"
Elise set down the book. "It's a perfectly valid observation, when you think about it, Liz. Now, I've made a copy of the suggested checklist for each of us." She leaned against the copier as she indicated the high points with a pen. "There are various headings and subheadings. You fill in the qualities you're looking for - the author makes suggestions - and then you just total up the numbers!"
Liz stared at the photocopy.
"The fact of the matter is," Elise explained, "we don't have time for men who aren't good candidates for long-term relationships."
"You mean for marriage." Liz studied the sheet.
"Let's see, type of car - sports car, sport utility, sedan. Bonus for cars costing more than forty K. Good. I love a man who drives a nice car."
Elise laughed. "Seems a bit much, but I guess that's important to some people. And it can indicate a man's education and socioeconomic status."
"First date," Liz continued to read. "Check one - dinner, dinner and dancing, movie and dinner. Topics of conversation - talks about you, talks about himself, knows what's going on in the world. No clue." She laughed looking up at Elise. "And this book said this would work? You can find a husband with this thing?"
Elise shrugged. "Well, nothing's guaranteed of course, but this is essentially what dating services do, right? And the book is full of lots of helpful suggestions. I've already started highlighting some of them." She paged through the volume to show where she had used a lavender highlighter.
Liz still looked unconvinced.
Elise poked her in the side. "Come on, where's your sense of adventure? This'll be fun."
Liz groaned and put out her hand. "Lay it on me."
Elise handed her friend the checklist. "Now be sure to fill out all of your requirements, then make photocopies. Use one set of sheets per date. There's a place to put his name right at the top."
Liz was still chuckling as she accepted the checklist. "You've had some crazy ideas before, Elise, but this one -"
"Hey, checklists work in the real estate business, don't they?" She indicated the plush office building with a sweep of her hand. "It's how things get accomplished around here. We set goals. We check them off and we end up achieving what we set out to do. It's good time management. The Husband Finder is nothing more than a tool to help us get what we want. To help us be happy, healthy women."
"Now you sound like that book." Liz clutched the sheet to her chest. "Okay, I surrender. I'll try your checklist." She rolled her eyes. "Nothing else has worked. Blind dates. Dating services. Personal ads. What have I got to lose?"
"That a girl." Elise smiled as she tapped her on the back with her copies. "Just trust me. This is going to work."
"Gotta run." Liz waved. "Talk to you later."
Elise watched as she disappeared down the hall, her navy pumps tapping on the hardwood floor. "Don't forget Friday night, that benefit dinner," she called after her friend.
"Pick you up at six."
Elise glanced down at the photocopies cradled in her arms. A checklist for potential husbands. It was crazy ... wasn't it?
Desperate was more like it.
After years of casual dating and no long-term relationships that ever led anywhere, Elise realized she was ready to get serious. She had all the things she thought would make her happy: a well-paying job, a great condo, a good retirement plan. But it wasn't enough.
Her father, Edwin Montgomery of the oil Montgomerys of Dallas had always told her that good hard work was the only thing a person could depend on. He had drilled into her head since she was a child that her career was what was important; personal happiness was inconsequential. So for a long time, Elise lived that life. And for a while, her career was enough. Only, over the past few months ... year if she was honest with herself ... her job hadn't been enough. It just hadn't been fulfilling in the way it once had been; she wasn't even sure she liked the real estate business. She realized she was lonely and she didn't want to end up like her father, alone and cantankerous. Elise ached for an intimate relationship with a man. She wanted a partner to love, a man who she could trust, who would love and trust her in return.
She glanced at the checklists cradled in her arms. It was worth a shot, wasn't it?
Excerpted from Barefoot And Pregnant? by Colleen Faulkner Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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