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Adrian Anderson surveyed the array of suits in his walk-in closet. With a critical eye, he chose a dark gray Armani with a double-breasted jacket. His selection included a crisp white shirt and patterned silk tie. He was picking out shoes when his telephone rang. He padded across the f loor of his master suite and checked his phone. Mom. Sighing, he tried his best to channel what little patience he had left as he picked up his cell phone. "Good morning, Mother," he said as upbeat as he could manage.
"I said I was sorry," she began without preamble. "How long do you plan on staying annoyed with me?"
"That would depend. How long do you plan on fixing me up with mental patients?"
"Sweetheart, I know you're upset, but there's no way I could've known she was in therapy."
"Mom, please. Therapy I can handle, but this chick called her doctor all through dinner. Do you know how weird that was?"
"Adrian, don't dramatize it," his mother admonished.
"You weren't there." Adrian sighed. "Let's not go over this again, okay? You pleaded your case last nightseveral times I might add. When are you going to get the point and stop matchmaking?"
"When you find the right woman and settle down," his mother huffed. "Which would be sooner than later if you wouldn't fight me at every turn."
Adrian pinched the bridge of his nose. His mother was driving him as crazy as his date, Cynthia. He'd dubbed her the Cyber Stalker. She'd called his cell phone and left numerous texts since their disastrous date.
It was always the same. Any date orchestrated by Norma Jean Andersonalso known as the Love Broker by all his close friendsended in disaster.
Each time he got wrangled into one of his mother's hookups, he would add the woman to his contact list. If the date ended badly, the woman in question would get a nickname that easily stood out on his phone. This trick ensured he didn't answer a call by mistake. So far, this system worked like a charm. Now, if he could get his mother to find another hobby.
"Mom, you've been at this longer than I've been in business."
"And look how successful that's been. You're doing well for yourself, honey. Business is thriving, you're a pillar to the community, handsome and smart. All you need is a wife to share your life with."
He ran a hand over his stubbled jaw. "The last trip I almost made down the aisle didn't turn out too well, remember?"
There was a short pause before his mother said, "I know, honey, but you can't let the indiscretions of one woman ruin your chance for a happy life."
"Indiscretions? You're being much nicer than that gold digger deserved. She slept her way through half of my friends, and almost had me saddled to her unfaithful butt for the rest of my life. Luckily for me, I interrupted that last romp before she became a married woman. So now I've got an ex-fiancée and ex-friends. Trust me, I'm better off not giving another woman a chance to break my heart and wreck my bank account."
"Adrian, I know she hurt you. Believe me, I get it. But that was over a year ago. If you let that woman scar you for life, she wins. It's time you got back in the saddle again. Stop going through women like you do dress shirts and let me find you one that will love you unconditionally."
"Tell me again what's natural about this? I'm a grown man whose mother is trying to control his love life."
"Adrian, if I wait for you, I'll drop dead before I get to see you become a father."
He sighed into the phone. "You'll be a grandmotherone day. Until then, my life is fine the way it is so please humor me and butt out," he said with a chuckle.
"I'll butt out when you say, 'I do,'" his mother replied with humor. "We'll discuss this later. Your dad's taking me to breakfast so I've got to run."
"Have a great day, honey," Norma Jean said quickly and hung up.
Adrian set the phone down. When his day started with a disagreement with his mother, it only got progressively worse; and recalling how the love of his life had duped him days before they were to marry hadn't helped his mood.
"Great," he muttered. Ripping the damp towel from his middle, he tossed it in the general direction of his clothes basket.
With angry strides, he headed toward the bathroom as if he were on his way into battle instead of work.
Turning in front of the mirror, Milán Dixon decided she liked the finished product. The navy blue suit was one of her favorites and it never failed to boost her confidence. A neutral blouse, classic diamond earrings and navy pumps completed the ensemble.
"You'll knock him dead," she said to her reflection before winking at herself. After eight weeks and so many job interviews she had lost count, Milán was more than ready for the tide to turn. Her decision to start fresh in a new city had come as a shock to her close-knit family, but she was adamant on leaving Miami. Thanks to her now ex-boyfriend, Eduardo Vega, Milán was left with a lot of bad memories and the debt to go with it.
Finding out that the beach house, antique cars and money he had flashed were just a facade was the worst day of her life. Ed-uardo's latest real estate plan of buying homes with his investment partner and flipping them had tanked right along with the market. Then she had found out that his investment partner had been his overindulgent father. Thanks to a sobering conversation with Senor Vega, Milán had discovered that the man she had loved and trusted was a liar, and that his father was pulling the plug on financing his son's ill-considered pursuits.
Two weeks later, Vega's lawyer had phoned Milán to let her know that Eduardo was cut off and on his own. The only things his father's money had not paid for were the furnishings she had purchased to decorate their new home and a few of their joint credit cards.
When Eduardo had come home that night, she was more than ready for him. Armed with the newly discovered facts, Milán had baited him into talking about the sweet deals he had in the pipeline, and how wonderful their life together was going to be. When she could stand it no more, she had blindsided him with his father's confessions. At first he had attempted to deny and explain them away, but eventually he had become angry and accused her of breaking his trust.
Milán had shot back that he should be happy she wasn't breaking his nose. As if on cue, her family had arrived. Her mother, Pia Aragon Dixon, had circled Eduardo like a lioness ready to defend her cub. Her father, Vincent, and sisters Nyah and Elena had been close behind. Seeing that he was outnumbered, Eduardo had told her she wasn't worth this and walked out. That was the last time she'd seen him.
Humiliated and now homeless, Milán had decided to get as far away from her heartbreak as possible. She had packed up everything she owned, settled the joint accounts she had shared with Eduardo and found a rental home in Chicago. With a modest nest egg in her savings account, and the last two paychecks from her job, Milán had tearfully bid her family goodbye. With promises that she would check in regularly, Milán had gotten into her loaded-down car and hit the road.
It had been a whirlwind of activity ever since. Arriving at her new home, a vintage loft apartment in the heart of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, Milán dove into decorating her new place and making it her own. The hard work soothed her frazzled nerves and broken heart. She could mourn her failed relationship with Eduardo later. Right now she wanted to concentrate on finding a job, learning her way around Chi-Town and paying off the rest of what she owed their creditors.
It took a few weeks, but Milán was finally acclimated to her environment. She still hadn't received any job offers, but she remained hopeful. Though she had not met many people, the ones she had become acquainted with were great. While at a church function with a neighbor, she had met Norma Jean Anderson and immediately connected with the older woman. Meeting Norma Jean seemed like the answer to her prayers. Just listening to her gush about her real estate mogul of a son, Adrian, was a step in the right direction. With him looking for an interior designer and stager to compliment his agency, and Milán in need of a job, Norma Jean assured her that working there would be the perfect match.
It sounded exciting enough, and Milán was eager to start work. Some of the prospects had been hopeful and she'd received a few callbacks, but so far nothing had panned out.
Sweeping all the younger woman's concerns aside, Norma Jean had promised to arrange a meeting for her with Adrian. Milán got caught up in her new friend's excitement. She was confident all would work out. This would be a job made in heaven, she had thought the very day Norma Jean had called back and told her to be at his office the following Monday at nine-thirty.
Coming out of her reverie, Milán took a deep breath. "It's all yours," she told her mirrored reflection. She retrieved her purse and portfolio off the coffee table. "This is your time to shine, chica. He'll love your designs and ideas and will offer you a job," she said confidently. Glancing at her watch, Milán frowned. Being late for her meeting with her soon-to-be boss would not look good. It had to be a fantastic interview. Juggling her purse, coffee and briefcase, she headed out.
After seeing all the traffic she had to contend with, Milán was glad she'd decided to leave early. It was definitely a wise move. Downtown Chicago during rush hour was bumper-to-bumper. By the time she had arrived and parked at the North Halstead address Norma Jean have given her, she had less than twenty minutes to spare. Her gaze traveled up the brick boutique-styled building. She definitely liked the large windows and glass door. A dark blue banner with white letters read Anderson Realty.
"This is the place," she said aloud. Giving herself a mental shake, she squared her shoulders and went in.
Adrian sat heavily in his chair. He felt like his head was about to explode. The throbbing in his temples made it difficult to concentrate on the woman standing in front of him. When his assistant had come in to tell him that his nine-thirty appointment was waiting, he had assumed it was a prospective interviewee for the Interior Designer position. How wrong he had been. When Adrian's assistant told him that the woman he had agreed to meet with had been recommended by his mother, a feeling of dread rippled through his entire body and then pure anger. Interior Designer indeed. This was no interview. It was a setup.
In an effort to calm down, he ran his hand over his face and breathed deeply. Resentment made the air hiss on its way out of his mouth. His mother had gone too far this time. This was his place of business, not some bar. With a practiced eye, Adrian scrutinized the woman that his assistant had shown into his office. He may be mad, but he sure wasn't blind. She was like a stop sign placed in the middle of a freeway during rush-hour traffic. Her looks demanded a man come to a screeching halt and take notice. Long legs did an excellent job of supporting her curvaceous body. The golden hue of her skin was flawless, except for a splattering of freckles on her upper cheeks and nose. Her hair was the color of rich chocolate, and with golden highlights. The way light reflected off the luminous waves that hung just below her shoulders made the color contrast stunning. It beckoned a man to run his fingers through it. His hands clenched together unconsciously.
Adrian's gaze sought hers. This time the air that expelled itself from his mouth was for an altogether different reason. Those eyes. Her eyes were the piece de resistance. They were an expressive, medium brown with flecks of light gold around the outer edge that held both strength and mystery. They could drown a man if he was not careful. And he would love every minute of it, he told himself. Adrian felt an instant reaction to the visual display of beauty before him. Instinct kicked in. His body eagerly anticipated taking the perusal to a whole new level, until he remembered the person responsible for the exquisite vision standing in front of him. Cold water splashed on his face could not have produced a faster effect. Slightly annoyed that he had gone poetic at a time like this, he remembered the catalyst by which this gorgeous woman now graced his presence. I can't believe this. She's done it to me again.
That realization was enough to jolt Adrian out of his trance. His ardor was quickly squelched and back under wraps where it belonged. This time when his eyes centered on the woman before him, they brooked no warmth. "I can't believe she sent you."
Despite his new motivation to send her on her way, Adrian couldn't deny that her voice was as appealing to him as warm butter on a biscuitand he loved biscuits.
"My mother!" The two words burst forth, coating the air with tension. He tried to calm himself. Lord knows it took considerable effort. It would appear that the Love Broker had struck again. Looking at the latest proof of Norma Jean Anderson's handiwork made his blood pressure skyrocket. Hadn't they had this conversation hours earlier?
Confusion registered on the woman's face. "Well, yes. Your mother gave me your card and told me I had to come see you." Sitting across from him, she shrugged out of her suit jacket. "She told me you were exactly the man I needed."
"I'll bet she did," he quipped. Adrian stood up, his hands straightening his suit. He'd heard enough. She may be working it in all the right places, and his temperature may have risen a degree or two, but there was no way in hell he was taking the bait. No way. "Listen, Miss?"
"It would appear you've wasted your time, Miss Dixonand mine. As fine as you are, and believe me you are without a doubt the most desirable woman my mother has ever paraded my way, I'm just not interested. Of course, if she had tried a few months ago before I got inundated by trolls maybe I would've"
"Excuse me?" Despite her surprise, Milán scowled at him. "You think this is a a come-on?"
Though his eyes devoured her, they also held a hint of challenge that transferred itself to his tone of voice. "Like it isn't?"
Milán was out of her chair with her hands on her hips in an instant. "No, it isn't. This was supposed to be a job interview."
Her rapid breathing caused her ample chest to stretch the ecru-colored silk blouse taut. His eyes were drawn to the motion like a magnet on a stainless steel refrigerator.
Coming around the expansive desk, Adrian stopped just shy of wearing her. He was impressed she stood her ground. It would appear his mother had finally found one with spirit. "Oh, my mother set up an interview all right, but it's apparent from the looks of you a job was the last thing she had in mind."
Standing ramrod straight, it took a few seconds for Milán to recover. When she did, her voice chilled the air around them like a cold front. "You know, of all the stuck-up, asinine, incredibly rude men I've come across in my travels, you, Mr. Anderson, set the precedent."