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Melanie 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.