Read an Excerpt
Early December in Philadelphia, PA Shortly after the first snow
"I know what you must be thinking, Mr. Brandt."
I doubt that, Derrick Brandt thought, sitting in one of the comfortable, overstuffed guest chairs facing the neatly organized desk that belonged to Noelle Brown, the owner of Love Unlimited, a small but successful matchmaking service.
"You're thinking, why Love Unlimited and not one of the more popular online dating agencies? I have three words for you." She lifted three elegantly shaped fingers. "The personal touch. That one-on-one human contact that simply cannot be determined with questionnaires and evaluations. It's been my experience that any long-term relationship is only forty percent chemistry and
sixty percent compatibility. And if the chemistry is right, it's instantaneous. So, that leaves the other sixty percent."
All the while she spoke, Derrick struggled to keep his eyes above the low-cut neckline of her mint-green silk blouse. He unconsciously licked his lips, imagining the bountiful treasure that lay just beneath the thin material. Try as he might, he simply could not help himself as his eyes repeatedly drifted south. She was so wonderfully endowed, and he was such a devoted breast man.
"Our methods are not always what one would consider traditional." She stretched her body to reach behind her chair and around to the credenza. Derrick allowed his hungry eyes to roam over her taut outline. Although the rest of her was hidden behind the desk, he already knew she was mostly legs. Long legs he could wrap around his waist. When she'd greeted him in the office lobby, his first impression had been of a luscious Amazon.
"But sometimes, finding just the right match takes something more than the conventional resources." She placed a brochure on the desk in front of him. "As you can see, we offer complete customer satisfaction."
She leaned forward to open the brochure, and the innocuous action thrust her bust up and outward in an irresistibly tempting display. "If we are unable to find a match for you within six months, you get an additional six months free. Fair enough?"
Derrick nodded mindlessly. The sum of his cognitive abilities was suddenly otherwise directedriveted actuallyon the lush brown mounds presented before him. The smooth, velvety, flawless skin was as rich and creamy as a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter day.
If he leaned forward just a little, he could cup them in his hands. He could lift them to his face. He could inhale
her decadent perfume. He could run his tongue over every curve and contour. Even through the thin silk material of her blouse, he could suck her into his mouth
"We want the same thing."
Guiltily, his eyes shot up to her face.
"To find the right woman for you," she continued blithely. "And if you allow me to do what I do best, I will do exactly that. Do you have any questions?"
Derrick had questions all right. Was she a moaner or a screamer? The thought brought to mind images so provocative he felt the stirring of desire from his brain to the lap of his trousers. A lot of the men he knew were attracted to the petite, insanely thin women who graced magazine covers and television ads, but Derrick had always preferred the more robust, more Rubenesque female body.
While his buddies were drooling over Halle Berry, he was having wet dreams about Queen Latifah. He shifted in his chair, trying to hide his growing erection.
Derrick swallowed hard and tried to bring his mind back to the matter at hand. "No, no questions." He cleared his throat loudly. "So, what do I have to do to get started?"
"Well, first I need to get some basic information." She reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a file. "Just a short interview to give me a better understanding of the qualities you feel are most important."
She clicked her retractable pen and opened the file. "Let's start with physical attributes. What do you find attractive in a woman?"
Derrick watched as she scribbled rapid notes in the file. "Okay, anything else?"
"She needs to be a good breeder."
Her pen paused over the page for several seconds. "A good breeder?" Oh goodness. I get all kinds in here!
"Yes. Wide hips, sturdy pelvis, that sort of thing."
"Hmm, oookaaay." The scribbling continued. "How about looks?"
"Nice looking, but I don't want a woman who attracts too much attention from other men." His eyes narrowed in painful remembrance of the last great beauty he'd allowed too close. "I don't share."
She scribbled something on the page before her. "So, let's say average beauty. And educational level?"
"Smart enough to know not to betray me." Derrick crossed his ankle over his knee to pick off a piece of lint that had gotten trapped in the cuff of his perfectly creased pant leg.
"Hmm " Her thin brows crinkled as she continued to scribble. "And personality?"
"Good with kids, not too demanding of my time, and financially self-sufficient." He snorted. "If I wanted to take care of something, I'd adopt a puppy."
Derrick watched uneasily as she laid the pen down, slowly closed the manila file, and folded her hands together on top of it.
"Mr. Brandt, I was under the impression you were looking for a permanent relationship, a wife."
"Then, I must say, I'm a little surprised by your responses so far." She reopened the file and glanced down at what she'd written. "An average-looking woman, who will apparently spend her life in fear of your wrath and be at your beck and call. Not to mention that she is expected to fully support herself despite your wealth
and resources." She glanced at him. "I have to admit, I can't think of a single woman in my client profiles who fits such a description."
"Well, I guess you are going to have to expand your client-profile list."
She shut the file once more, and sat back in the chair. "Or you're going to have to find another matchmaker."
Derrick flinched inwardly, knowing he was about to blow an interview that meant much more to him than he could ever let on. He nervously picked at his pant leg as his mind calculated the best way forward.
On some level, Derrick understood that despite his financial success, Love Unlimited was probably his best chance at romantic happiness.
For the past ten years, Derrick had dated countless women in the pursuit of onejust one the right one, and had yet to find her.
What he had found instead was his fiancÉe, Anita, in bed with his college roommate, Chris. He'd also found Carol, the stewardess who had stolen his Amex Black card and taken a group of girlfriends on a one-week, eight-thousand-dollar vacation to Cabo. As pathetic as it was, Derrick knew in his heart that he would've forgiven her for the theft. Eight thousand dollars wasn't even a dent in his wallet. No, it wasn't the theft that had ended the relationship, but the advanced case of crabs she had brought back from the trip.
Then there was Mira, a reporter for the Philadelphia Herald, whom he discovered was willing to do just about anything, including sleeping with a manhim she apparently despised, all for the sake of getting enough inside information for a front-page exposÉ.
Opening the morning paper to find his pillow talk smeared across the front page was a particularly painful blow. Especially considering the engagement ring he'd purchased for her the day before.
There were others, many other failed relationships with fault lying on both sides to varying degrees. Derrick had almost given up hope of ever finding a compatible woman to spend his life with.
Then, about a month ago, his business partner, Camille, dropped a small article on his desk. It was a lifestyle piece about a small local matchmaking service boasting a one hundred percent compatibility rate among its clientele.
From the moment he walked through the glass double doors of Love Unlimited that morning, Derrick had known there was something special about Noelle Brown. Although, he couldn't fully identify the sensation, he trusted her. And Derrick was a man who took instinct seriously. Most of his present success could be owed to following his gut.
Along with an astute understanding of human nature that had served him well in business if not in his personal relationships, Derrick had overcome incredible odds to become one of the most successful architects in Philadelphia.
Now all he sought to complete his life was the one missing piece of the puzzle, someone trustworthy to share it with. A woman with the social grace and poise of Camille. The emotional openness of a rose in bloom. And the carnal appetite of a nymphomaniac.
Looking at the beauty sitting across from him, Derrick couldn't help wondering about Noelle Brown's carnal appetites. His eyes flashed to the small solitaire diamond wedding ring on her finger. Lucky Mr. Brown.
He cleared his throat and sat up straighter. "Why don't you tell me which part of what I've said you find the most difficult to work with."
She gestured to the file. "All of it. But if I had to pick one specific thing, it would be the financial requirement. I can't think of a single woman who would agree to marry you and then be expected to continue to support herself completely. You're one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia, and a marriage is a partnership, Mr. Brandt."
She lifted a knowing eyebrow. "And the ‘smart enough not to betray me' thing. Quite frankly, that statement causes me a great deal of alarm."
Hearing it repeated back like that, it did sound bad to Derrick. Eloquence was never his strong suit. He knew that if he ever found the right woman, he would worship her with lavish gifts every day and ravenous attention to her body every night. He would hold her as the dearest thing in his life, considering the many years he'd waited for her.
As always, he didn't have the right, diplomatic words often needed to express his feelings when it came to his love life. Instead, his eyes said it all. A problem that had haunted him his whole life and had cost him greatly on more than one occasion.
Camille was always telling Derrick that he had no filter. That something in the brain that kept people from saying exactly what they were thinking seemed to be lacking in him. It always had been. That lack of tact on his part had also contributed to bringing him to this point in his life, where he was requiring professional help in the most basic of human pursuits. The hunt for a mate.
"Maybe I didn't articulate my thoughts properly." He
frowned. "Naturally, I would support my wife, with the usual contingencies. But as for the selection process, let's be perfectly clear. I won't allow you to present me with a handful of money-grubbing, promiscuous opportunists."
For several seconds, Noelle sat staring at him in silence.
Derrick stared back.
Finally, she blinked and released a deep sigh. "I will probably regret asking, but feel I must. What exactly do you mean by ‘the usual contingencies'?"
"Prenuptial agreements, of course."
"Of course," she muttered, with another deep sigh. She reopened the file and started writing.
Every instinct in Noelle wanted to tell the illustrious Derrick Brandt to get the hell out of her office. The problem was that she could not afford to. She needed him as much as he obviously needed her. Of course, she wasn't about to let him know that.
For a few moments, she'd been terrified that he'd take her up on the offer to find another matchmaker. Thankfully, he'd stayed. Now, the question was what to do with him?
The man was a Neanderthal, no doubt about it. But he was a wealthy, influential, well-connected Neanderthal. And if handled right, he could be just the boon her growing agency needed.
In the eighteen months since she'd opened her doors, she'd successfully matched almost forty couples. And of that forty, twenty-nine had married, and the other eleven were still together. It was an enviable record by any standard. Despite the lofty name of the agency, Love Unlimited, her resources were indeed limited and had been concentrated on rising rent and the day-to-day
business of running the agency, leaving little for the kind of advertising and publicity Noelle would've liked. With one positive endorsement, Derrick Brandt could change all that. He could put Love Unlimited over the edge. That is, if she could stomach the man long enough to find a woman willing to put up with him.
She finished her notes and turned the file in his direction. "Okay, I just need you to complete this application and these disclosures." She flipped through the pages. "Sign here and here."
His eyes shot up to meet hers, and she was once again startled by the unusual flickers of gold that surrounded the light green pupils, both colors in stark contrast to those long, lush black lashes. It's ridiculous for a man to have lashes that long, she thought.
The unique color was not the most unsettling thing about his eyes. It was the open window to every thought behind them. Whatever Derrick Brandt was thinking or feeling was plainly expressed in those eyes.
"I don't sign anything without reading it first." He sat back once again crossed his ankle over his knee and settled in to read the file. Derrick smoothed his silk tie, reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a pen. Using it as a guide, he began reading. Noelle frowned at his downcast head, still unsure just what to make of him.
Granted, he was probably the most beautiful specimen of masculinity she'd ever laid eyes on. Granted, he was rich as King Solomon and showed flashes of intelligence that bordered on brilliant. But even with all that going for him, it was hard to like the man. It had all started with that smile. Noelle felt her blood beginning to boil once more just remembering.
Her secretary, Terri, had called in sick because her daughter had come down with the flu. Noelle understood the woes of a sick child, but it had created a problem, considering she had five appointments scheduled for the day, the first and most important of which was going to arrive any minute.
She had been scrambling around on Terri's desk, looking for the phone number of the temporary agency she occasionally used, when the glass doors to her suite were thrown open, and he walked in. Derrick Brandt.
Noelle immediately recognized him. His face was in the paper almost every week. The photographic images did not do him justice. He stood, tall and broad shouldered, and moved with the precision of a dancer. His handsome face look chiseled from stone, all sharp angles and perfect lines. His light-colored almond-shaped eyes were in startling contrast to his rich brown skin. A sharp nose and heart-shaped pink lips completed the exquisite picture. Looking at Derrick Brandt, one would never guess he had gotten his start in life as a mailroom clerk for a Philadelphia architectural firm. A firm he now owned.