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Marnie Franklin left her thirtieth wedding of the year, with aching feet, flower petals in her hair and a satisfied smile on her face. She'd done it. Again.
From behind the wide glass and brass doors of Boston's Park Plaza hotel, the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Corliss waved and shouted their thanks. "We owe it all to you, Marnie!" Andrew called. A geeky but lovable guy who tended toward neon colored ties that were knotted too tight around his skinny neck, Andrew had been one of her best success stories. Internet millionaire, now married to an energetic, friendly woman who loved him for his mindand their mutual affection for difficult Sudoku puzzles.
"You're welcome! May you have a long and happy life together." Marnie gave them a smile, then turned to the street and waited while a valet waved up one of the half dozen waiting cabs outside the hotel. Exhaustion weighed on Marnie's shoulders, despite the two cups of coffee she'd downed at the reception. A light rain had started, adding a chill to the late spring air. The always busy Boston traffic passed the hotel in a swoosh-swoosh of tires on damp pavement, a melody highlighted by the honking of horns, the constant music of a city. She loved this city, she really did, but there were dayslike todaywhen she wished she lived somewhere quiet. Like the other side of the moon.
Her phone rang as she opened the taxi's door and told the driver her address. She pressed mute, sending the call straight to voice mail. That was the trouble with being on the top of her fieldthere was no room for a holiday or vacation. She'd become one of Boston's most successful matchmakers, and that meant everyone who wanted a happy ending called her, looking for true love.
Something she didn't believe in herself.
An irony she couldn't tell her clients. Couldn't admit she'd never fallen in love, and had given up on the emotion after one too many failed relationships. She couldn't tell people that the matchmaker had no faith in a match for herself. So she poured herself into her job and kept a bright smile on her face whenever she told her clients that they could have that happy ending, too.
She'd seen the fairy tale ending happen for other people, but a part of Marnie wondered if she'd missed her one big chance to have a happily-ever-after. She was almost thirty, and had yet to meet Mr. Right. Only a few heart-breaker Mr. Wrongs. At least with her job, she had some control over the outcome, which was the way Marnie preferred the things in her life. Controlled, predictable. The phone rang again, like a punctuation mark to the end of her thoughts.
In front of her, the cabbie pulled away from the curb, at the same time fiddling with the GPS on the dash. Must be a new driver, Marnie decided, and grabbed her phone to answer the call. "This is Marnie. How can I help you make a match?"
"You need to stop working, dear, and find your own Mr. Right."
Her mother. Who meant well, but who thought Marnie's personal life should take precedence over everything else in the universe. "Hi, Ma. What are you doing up so late on a Friday night?"
"Worrying about my single daughter. And why she's working on a Friday night. Again."
The GPS announced a left turn, a little late for the distracted cab driver, who jerked the wheel to the left and jerked Marnie to one side, too. She gave him a glare in the rear-view mirror, but he ignored it. The noxious fumes of Boston exhaust filled the interior, or maybe that was the bad ventilation system in the cab. The car had seen better days, heck, better decades, if the duct tape on the scarred vinyl seats was any indication.
"You should be out on a date of your own," Marnie countered to her mother.
"Oh, I'm too old for that foolishness," Helen said. "Besides, your father hasn't been gone that long."
"Three years, Ma." Marnie lowered her voice to a sympathetic tone. Dad's heart attack had taken them all by surprise. One day he'd been there, grinning and heading out the door, the next he'd been a shell of himself, and then gone. "It's okay to move on."
"So, what are you doing on Sunday?" her mother said, instead of responding to Mar-nie's advice, a surefire Helen tactic. Change the topic from anything difficult. Marnie's parents had been the type who avoided the hard stuff, swept it under the rug. To them, the world had been a perpetually sunny place, even when evidence to the contrary dropped a big gray shadow in their way.
A part of Marnie wanted to keep things that way for her mother, to protect Helen, who had been through so much.
"I wanted to have you and your sisters over for brunch after church," Ma said. "I could serve that coffee cake you love and."
As her mother talked about the menu, Mar-nie murmured agreement, and reviewed her To Do list in her head. She had three appointments with new clients early in the morning tomorrow, one afternoon bachelor meet and greet to host, then her company's Saturday night speed date event
"Did you hear what I said?" her mother cut in.
"Sorry, Ma. The connection faded." Or her brain, but she didn't say that.
The cab driver fiddled again with the GPS, pushing buttons to zoom in or out, Marnie wasn't sure. He seemed flustered and confused. She leaned forward. "Just take a left up here," she said to him. "Onto Boylston. Then a right on Harvard."
The cabbie nodded.
And went straight.
"Hey, you missed the turn." Damn it. Was the man that green? Marnie gave up the argument and sat back against the seat. After the long day she'd had, the delay was more welcome than annoying. Especially to her feet, which were already complaining about the upcoming three-flight walk upstairs to her condo. She loved the brick building she lived in, with its tree-lined street located within walking distance of the quirky neighborhood of Coolidge Corner. But there were days when living on the third floordespite the nice view of the park across the streetwas exhausting after a long day. Right this second, she'd do about anything for an elevator and a massage chair.
"I said you should wear a dress to brunch on Sunday," her mother said, "because I'm inviting Stella Hargrove's grandson. He's single and"
"Wouldn't it be nicer just to visit with you and my sisters, Ma? That way, we can all catch up, which we never seem to get enough time to do. A guy would end up being a fifth wheel." Marnie pressed a finger to her temple, but it did little to ward off the impending headache. A headache her sister Erica would say she brought on herself because she never confronted her mother and instead placated and deferred. Instead of saying Ma, don't fix me up, she'd fallen back on making nice instead. Marnie was the middle sister, the peacemaker, even if sometimes that peace came with the price of a lot of aspirin. "Besides, if I want a date, I have a whole file of handsome men to go through."
"Yet you haven't done that at all. You keep working and working and oh, I just worry about you, honey."
Ever since their father had died, Helen had made her three children her topand onlypriority. No matter how many times Marnie and her sisters had encouraged their mother to take a class, pick up a hobby, go on a trip, she demurred, and refocused the conversation on her girls. What her mother needed was an outside life. Something else to focus on. Something like a.
Marnie smacked herself in the head. For goodness sake, she was a professional matchmaker. Why had she never thought to fix up her mother? Marnie had made great matches for both of her sisters. Oldest sister Kat got married to her match two years ago, and Erica was in a steady relationship with a man Marnie had introduced her to last month. Despite that, Marnie had never thought about doing the same for her widowed mother. First thing tomorrow morning, she would cull her files and find a selection of distinguished, older men. Who appreciated women with a penchant for meddling.
"I'll be there for brunch on Sunday, Ma, I promise," Marnie said, noting the cabbie again messing with the GPS. "Maybe next time we can invite Stella's grandson. Okay?"
Her mother sighed. "Okay. But if you want me to give him your number or give you his."
"I know who to call." Marnie started to say something else when the cabbie swore, stomped on his brakes
And rearended the car in front of him. Marnie jerked forward, the seatbelt cutting across her sternum but saving her from plowing into the plexiglass partition. She let out an oomph, winced at the sharp pain that erupted in her chest, while the cabbie let out a stream of curses.
"What was that sound?" Helen asked. "It sounded like a boom. Did something fall? Did you hit something?"
"It's, uh, nothing. I gotta go, Ma," Mar-nie said, and after a breath, then another, the pain in her chest eased. "See you tomorrow." She hung up the phone, then unbuckled, and climbed out of the yellow cab. The hood had crumpled, and steam poured from the engine in angry gusts. The cabbie clambered out of the taxi. He let out another long stream of curses, a few in a language other than English, then started pacing back and forth between the driver's side door and the impact site, holding his head and muttering.
The accordioned trunk of a silver sports car was latched onto the taxi's hood. A tall, dark, handsome, and angry man stood beside the idling luxury car. He shouted at the cab driver, who threw up his hands and feigned non-understanding, as if he'd suddenly lost all knowledge of the English language.
Marnie grabbed her purse from the car, and walked over to the man. One of those attractive, business types, she thought, noting his dark pinstriped suit, loosened tie, white button-down with the top button undone. A five o'clock shadow dusted his strong jaw, and gave his dark hair and blue eyes a sexy air. The matchmaker in her recognized the kind of good-looking man always in demand with her clients. But the woman in her
Well, she noticed him on an entirely different level, one that sent a shimmer of heat down her veins and sped up her pulse. Something she hadn't felt in so long, she'd begun to wonder if she'd ever meet another man who interested her.
Either way, Mr. Suit and Tie looked like a lawyer or something. The last thing she needed was a rich, uptight man with control issues. She'd met enough of them that she could pick his type out of the thousands of people in the stands at Fenway on opening day.
"Is everyone okay?" she asked.
The cab driver nodded. Mr. Suit and Tie shot him a scowl, then turned to Marnie. His features softened. "Yeah. I'm fine," he said.
"I'm okay. Just a little shaken up."
"Good." He held her gaze for a moment longer, then turned on the cabbie. "Didn't you see that red light? Where'd you get your license? A vending machine?"
The cabbie just shook his head, as if he didn't understand a word.
Mr. Suit and Tie let out a curse and shook his head, then pivoted back to Marnie. "What were you thinking, riding around this city with a maniacal cab driver?"
"It's not like I get a resume and insurance record handed to me before I get in a taxi," she said. "Now, I understand you're frustrated, but"
"I'm beyond frustrated. This has been a hell of a day. With one hell of a bad ending." He shot the cab driver another glare, but the man had already skulked back to his car and climbed behind the wheel. "Wait! What are you doing?"
"I'm not doing any" Then she heard the sound of metal groaning, and tires squealing, and realized Mr. Suit and Tie wasn't talking to herbut to the cab driver who had just hit and run. The yellow car disappeared around the corner in a noisy, clanking cloud of smoke.
In the distance, she heard the rising sound of sirens, which meant one of the people living in the apartments lining the street must have already called 9-1-1. Not soon enough.
Mr. Suit and Tie cursed under his breath. "Great. That's all I needed today."
"I'm sorry about that." Marnie stepped to the corner and put up her hand for a passing cab. "Well, good luck. Hope you get it straightened out and your night gets better."
"Hey! You can't leave. You're my witness."
"Listen, I'm exhausted and I just want to get home." She raised her arm higher, waving her hand, hoping to see at least one available cab. Nothing. Her feet screamed in protest. Soon as she got home, she was burning these shoes. "I'll give you my number. Call me for my statement." She fished in her purse for a business card, and held it out.
He ignored the card. "I need you to stay."
"And I need to get home." She waved harder, but the lone cab that passed her didn't stop. "This is Boston. Why aren't there any cabs?"
"Celtics game is just getting over," the man said. "They're probably all over at the Garden."
"Great." She lowered her arm, then thought of the ten-block hike home. Not fun in high heels. Even less fun after an eighteen-hour day, the last four spent dancing and socializing. She should have drunk an entire pot of coffee.
"I'll make you a deal," the man said. "I'll give you a lift if you can wait until I've finished making the accident report. Then you can give your statement and kill two birds with one stone."
She hesitated. "I don't know. I'm really tired."
"Stay for just a bit more. After tonight, you'll never have to see me again." He grinned.
He had a nice smile. An echoing smile curved across her face. She glanced down the street in the direction of her condo and thought of the soft bed waiting for her there. She weighed that against walking home. Option two made her feet hurt ten times more. Stupid shoes.
She glanced back at the misshapen silver car. "You're sure you can drive me home? In that?"
"It runs. It's just got a little junk in the trunk." He grinned. "Sorry. Bad joke."
A laugh escaped her and eased some of the tension in her shoulders, the pain in her feet. "Even a bad joke sounds good right now." No cabs appeared, and that settled the decision for her. "Okay, I'll wait."
Not that it was going to be a hardship to wait with a view like that. This guy could have been a cover model. Whew. Hot, hot, hot. She should get his contact information. She had at least a dozen clients who would be
You're always working.