Read an Excerpt
"We're here, ma'am."
Caroline tore her gaze away from the structure on the hill. Realizing that the limo had stopped, she smiled politely at the driver in the rearview mirror.
"Different, isn't it?" he said pointing with his chin in the direction of the architectural nightmare that was her destination. The stone slab building jutted out from the cliff like a bad sandcastle that had been pounded by too many waves.
It could be her next home. Possibly. Maybe. Wow. It was ugly.
"I've never seen anything like it," she admitted.
The driver chuckled and shifted his weight to exit the car. A second later, her door was opened and a helpful hand waited for her.
"Can't say it's the boss's style, either," he noted. "He's more the downtown condo type if you know what I mean. But he likes his privacy."
Caroline imagined he must. She looked around and saw only the ocean to her right and to the left the stone structure precariously perched on the cliff.
"What am I doing here?" she mumbled to herself as she struggled against the very logical urge to get back in the car, return to the airport and fly home.
Dear Ms. Somerville,
I received your profile from the service we've both chosen to utilize. I believe we might be compatible. I understand you are a writer. That sounds like a very interesting profession. What would you like to know about me?
Sincerely, Dominic Santos
"Excuse me, ma'am did you say something?"
Caroline snapped back to attention to find the driver dripping in luggage. She offered to take one of the bags but he smiled and headed for the house. She followed him to what she supposed was the front door. Only it didn't look like any door she'd ever seen as the stone slab portal was skewed to the right. The driver rang the doorbell.
She wasn't ready to do this. She wasn't ready to meet this man right here, right now. Everything she'd hoped for, dreamed of and wanted was potentially beyond that door. Her breath caught in her chest. She might faint.
At his feet.
That would make a heck of a first impression.
The door opened and a young woman with short spiky hair wearing a top that didn't quite cover her stomach and a skirt that didn't quite cover her thighs greeted them both. "Hi! You must be Caroline. Mr. S. told me to let you in."
A large black dog muscled past the girl to greet the new guests. Caroline instantly offered her hand for the dog to sniff, which it did before licking it affectionately.
"Oh, sorry," the girl apologized. "Don't mind her. She doesn't bite or anything. Her name is "
"Munch," Caroline finished. "Her name is Munch."
Dear Mr. Santos,
I received your profile. It was quite detailed. But I imagine that's part of the sizeable fee we're paying. This isn't like any other matchmaking service, is it? Annual gross income, detailed personality profiles, education history. One might think we were applying for a job with the CIA rather than just looking for someone. You asked what I wanted to know about you. So many things, I suppose. What you like. What you don't like. Your hobbies, your passions. Why you chose to go this route to find a wife.
As for me, you were right in saying I'm a writer, but I have to confess it's not as exciting as most people believe. I spend a lot of time on my own. I had a cat, but he recently passed away. I'm thinking of getting a kitten. They are great company. Regards, Caroline
"Come on in. Mr. S. said to show you around the place." "He's not here?" Caroline tried to decide whether she was disappointed or relieved.
"Gosh no, Mr. S. is like never here. I take care of Munch during the day. I walk her a few times and sometimes I even have to come back in the evening if Mr. S. is pulling an all-nighter. This is the foyer, obviously. Off to the right is the kitchen. It's totally tricked out with the best appliances."
Caroline nodded and reached down to find Munch pressed up against her leg. She rubbed the animal's short silky fur and thought how sad it was that such an affectionate creature was so often left alone by her master.
"Down those steps to the left is the living room. There is a really cool flat-screen over the fake fireplace. Then from there down another few steps is the pool house. Wait until you see that. It's wicked."
Tuning out her tour guide, Caroline tried to study her surroundings. A house could say so much about the person. Hers certainly did. Every stick of furniture she'd chosen. Every picture she'd hung. Antique pieces mixed with modern. The local artist she discovered at a small gallery opening in D.C. There was her mother's milk pitcher collection. Her aunt's dolls. Those she held on to, too. But they were still part of her.
There weren't many pictures on Dominic's wall. Two modern-art blasts of color that were probably recommended by a decorator. The few items of furniture were quality, but the space still seemed empty. The outside was a study in cutting-edge architectural design with rounded stone levels that resembled a weathered staircase. The inside reflected none of that radical theme.
Caroline followed the girl, who had eventually introduced herself as Cindy, to another open area that on one side looked like a very high-tech office space and on the other an advanced gym. Her attention was quickly captured by the pool that gleamed through the glass doors.
Drawn to it, she ignored Cindy's explanation of the various different aerobic machines and opened the door that led to what was a room entirely enclosed in glass. The smell of chlorine punched her in the face, but it was a clean smell. Beyond the pool, looking out the glass walls she could see the waves rolling up against the sand below. The effect was amazing. She predicted that swimming in this pool would feel like swimming high on top of the ocean.
"I know," Cindy said apparently reading Caroline's thoughts. "Isn't it, like, so awesome? Mr. S. says I can swim in it any time I want when I'm here. And in the winter it's heated."
Caroline nodded. Yes, it was awesome.
My hobbies, my likes, my passions all revolve around the same thing: my work. My partner, Denny, and I founded and built Encrypton into a successful business. We've recently taken on a new partner to help grow it into something even bigger. It's a very busy time for us. I want to be clearI am what most would consider a workaholic.
I don't apologize for that and I don't see it changing. You asked why I chose this method to look for a wife. The truth is, this was the least time-consuming. If you would still like to communicate perhaps I could call you.
P.S. I have a dog. You mentioned you once had a cat. I don't know if you like dogs. Her name is Munch. She used to chew things as a puppy.
"That's the tour," Cindy proclaimed as they stood in what was Dominic's master bedroom. More glass walls provided another perfect view of the ocean. It was an odd contrast, this sense of isolation mixed with a feeling of openness.
"I appreciate you showing me around."
"No problem. I guess I'll go. You're okay with Munch, right?"
The dog was plastered against her thigh and her tail was wagging so hard Caroline wondered if the poor thing would shake apart. Maybe she knew that Caroline had come to give her company.
"I'm fine. Enjoy the rest of your day."
Caroline didn't bother showing the girl out. She didn't feel completely comfortable with the ritual as it wasn't really her place. She was more of a guest than Cindy.
When the house was completely quiet she sat on the bed and saw that her suitcase had been left in this room. His room.
"Can I tell you a secret, Munch?"
"Roof!" Munch replied.
"I'm really a coward."
"No it's true. I thought I wanted this. A husband. A baby. But now I'm not sure this is the right way. I don't even know this person. I don't know if I can do this. If I'm brave enough."
"All right. If you say so."
Caroline patted her new friend's head and contemplated the large king-size bed behind her. She was so tired. From the trip, the anticipation, the anxiety. Lying down, she instantly felt a dip as Munch leaped onto the bed with her and settled down at her back. The faint hint of a masculine aroma drifted up from the pillow. Caroline thought it smelled rather nice.
She reached behind her and patted Munch. The dog's presence was ridiculously reassuring. "Seriously, what if this is the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life?" she whispered.
This time there was no answer.
Dominic Santos stared out the window of his office which overlooked a valley that, despite its name, wasn't really made out of silicon. Frustrated by how little he'd done all day, he returned to his desk but only to check the time on his computer again.
It was only one minute since the last time he looked.
What the hell was he doing? He was behaving like some love-struck teenager and he didn't appreciate the feeling. That's not what this visit was about. This was a testfor both of themnothing more.
Four days to determine their compatibility and their adaptability. Four days to see if the service had correctly matched them based on their personalities and life goals. There was absolutely nothing to be nervous about. They had e-mailed and spoken on the phone for several weeks now. This was just the next step.
Abruptly he opened the drawer of his workstation and removed the manila folder inside. Flipping it open, he caught his breath as her picture smiled up at him. Beneath it were copies of their exchanged e-mails. He wasn't sure why he'd felt the need to print and save them, but he had. He lifted the photo and studied it. It hadn't changed since he'd first gotten it. It still captivated him.
I enjoyed our conversation last night. I hope you don't mind the follow up e-mail. Words tend to fall easier from my fingertips than they do my mouth. I know I hesitated regarding your offer, but I have had a chance to think about it and I will accept. I would feel more comfortable paying for my ticket I have some revisions to finish up on my latest manuscript, but, say in two weeks?
I suppose it's time we met. Caroline
Dominic cursed, put away the folder and checked the time again. He wasn't pleased to see that it hadn't changed.
She had to be at the house by now. He had his secretary, Serena, call the airline to verify that the plane had landed on time. It had. Given that information, then factoring in the time it would take for her to freshen up, meet Henry at the baggage claim, get underway, and allowing for the traffic at this time of day, he calculated that she should be arriving at his home a little after five.
It was 5:01.
Perhaps he should leave now. It would take him a little more than an hour to get home in the rush hour. Plenty of time for her to get settled, maybe even take a nap to fight off the jet lag. Or maybe he should call first to see if she was there yet.
He picked up the phone and then put it down. Just like he had at least a dozen times this past week. Once she'd made the decision to come, he hadn't felt the need to continue calling her. No, that wasn't true. He'd wanted to talk to her; he just hadn't wanted to give her an opportunity to change her mind. He had, however, sent another e-mail.
I must insist on paying. You're making the trip. Let me at least do this. I've booked your ticket, first class. Attached is the itinerary. Dominic
No, calling would have been overkill. If he'd missed the sound of her voice after talking nearly every day for a week, then it was a small price to pay for not jeopardizing this meeting. Dominic hoped his strategy paid off. After all he knew the plane had landed. He just didn't know if she'd been on it.
Impatiently, he hit his intercom. "Serena."
"Yes, Mr. Santos?"
"Get Henry on his cell phone, will you? And put him through to me."
"Yes, Mr. Santos."
Dominic turned back to his computer and tried to focus on work, but gave up when his eyes once again strayed toward the clock. This was insanity, and frankly it was pissing him off.
Maybe this was all a big mistake.
His intercom beeped. "That's Henry on line one, Mr. Santos."
Dominic snatched up the receiver. "Where are you?"
"Just leaving Half Moon Bay, sir. Ms. Somerville's plane arrived on time. I dropped her off at the house a few minutes ago. Was there anything else you needed today?"
"No. That will be all."
He hung up the phone and tried to convince himself that the overwhelming relief surging through him right now had more to do with his plans and less to do with Caroline. He'd started on this path with a very specific goal in mind. He wanted a wife. He wanted a child. He'd taken the most expedient path to obtain the first objective by hiring an exclusive matchmaking service. Caroline's had been the third profile he'd received and the only one he considered making contact with. At first he'd been wary of the idea of a long-distance situation. She lived in Virginia, on the other side of the country from San Jose, California.
It was the picture. She wasn't strikingly beautiful, but she was pretty. And there was serenity in her face that appealed to him. It made him imagine that she was someone people found easy to be with, easy to look at. He'd gone to her Web site to see the photo she used for the back covers of her books. In that shot she looked even prettier, but the soft smile wasn't there. Instead she looked very studious.
He preferred the other picture. His picture. Now, he wanted to see the real thing.
Dominic beeped Serena again. "I'm going to be leaving in about thirty minutes. No more calls get through."
"Leaving for the day, sir?"
He heard the incredulousness in his employee's voice. In the ten years she'd been working for him, he'd never left his office before eight.
"Denny wanted to meet with you."
His partner and senior programmer had sequestered himself in his office for the past few weeks working on a project that he said was explosive. Of course he wouldn't give any indication about what the hell that meant. Worse, his behavior was starting to alarm their newest partner. But Dominic had assured Steven this was Denny's way. All or nothing. And the end result had always been worth it.
Apparently he was finally ready to reveal the big secret.