Read an Excerpt
By Clarissa Yip, Libby Murphy
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Clarissa Yip
All rights reserved.
The elegant gold script jumped out at her, the words twisting her gut. Lia sank back into her chair with a frustrated sigh and chucked the wedding invitation onto her desk. Her ex-fiancé and ex-best friend were getting married.
Should she be surprised? Probably not. During her two months back in Grant, she'd been busy setting up office and ignoring the life — rather, the failure — she'd walked away from in the city. Now it had found her again. Her gaze darted back to the invitation.
Best to work and forget they exist.
The light on the intercom blinked. She leaned over and pressed the button. "Yes?"
"Miss McEvers, you have visitors," her assistant said.
Lia checked the calendar on her computer screen. Nothing scheduled for at least another two hours. "I don't have anything in my books. Who is it?"
Karen cleared her throat, then whispered, "It's your grandmothers."
Her heart stopped. "Both of them? Together?"
"Send them in."
Lia quickly shoved the invitation into the desk drawer. Standing, she tugged at her suit jacket, ran a hand over her hair, and moved to the door of her spacious office, her stiletto heels soundless against the newly installed taupe carpets. She drew the glass door open, pushing aside her earlier aggravation. Her insides warmed at the sight of her Nanna Maria and Carol — whom she'd called Grammy her whole life. They glided down the marble hall, their white hair shining under the fluorescent lights, makeup neatly applied, and heads held high. There could never be women more elegant and classy than these two.
When they weren't making trouble, of course.
"Nanna. Grammy." Lia hugged each woman, obediently accepting their kisses on her cheeks. She took their jackets and eyed them warily, her suspicions rising. Since she'd returned, they'd never shown up at her office. Nor would they take the time out of their social schedule for a surprise visit unless something bothered them ... or they were up to something.
"Gorgeous establishment." Nanna Maria moved farther into the room, studying her surroundings while Lia hung up their coats.
Grammy Carol followed. "It is pretty. Who would ever think a matchmaking service would look like this?"
The sun shone through the floor-to-ceiling windows, showcasing the snow-covered street and tall trees. The recent blizzard had forced businesses to close, but the snow never bothered Lia. She enjoyed the cold, reveled in the brisk chills and icicles hanging off the roofs, and wished it would all just freeze her angst and make her forget every failure in her life.
At least she had her work.
The women clutched their purses in front of them and sat down. Their graceful movements put her own efforts to shame. Too bad it wasn't something she'd picked up from them, since they'd basically raised her.
"What brings you two here? I thought we weren't meeting up for dinner until tomorrow night?" Lia said.
Nanna tsked. "There's nothing wrong with us visiting our granddaughter."
Carol nodded in agreement as Lia moved around the desk and took her seat. "We wanted to see how the renovations were going. You look skinnier, honey, than the last time I saw you."
"Still look the same. And the renovations were pretty much done last week." Lia smiled. She'd had breakfast with them just two days ago, and they'd done nothing but talk about Maxwell Sheraton. Max this, Max that. Max, the gifted do-gooder. Successful, handsome, and the most sought-after bachelor in town. Aka Carol's grandson and Lia's arch-nemesis. Her heart tightened. Just the thought of Max made her angry, reminding her why she'd left Grant five years ago and landed in the mess she'd left behind in the city.
A knock sounded at the door, and Karen entered with beverages. Lia waited until her assistant exited the room before she spoke again. "Did you guys really come here to check out my office?"
They shared a look, before Nanna faced her. "Help him, honey."
An alarm sounded in Lia's head as she cautiously took a sip of her tea, then set her cup down on her desk. "Help who?"
"Max, of course."
She drew in a deep breath. Here we go again. "With what? He's a land developer. I'm a matchmaker. What could I possibly help him with that he can't just pay someone to do for him?"
She tried to keep the annoyance out of her tone, but she couldn't help it. She and Max had grown up together. Their grandmothers were best friends. Their mothers were best friends. And they couldn't stand each other ... except the one time they'd kissed.
"We want you to help him find a date for the Valentine's party," Nanna said.
"Max doesn't need help." She squirmed under their stern, razor-sharp gazes, a sliver of fear rising in her throat. When the two teamed up, there was no denying them. And she hated displeasing them.
Her nanna pursed her lips. "Of course he does."
"My grandson doesn't know what's best for him. We do." Carol nodded at Nanna.
Lia leaned back in her chair. True Connections was a matchmaking service — not a get-your-act-together-for-bachelors daycare, as her two elders apparently thought. She couldn't imagine Max needing her expertise to find a date.
"If Max wants to be set up, then why hasn't he come here himself?" Lia clasped her hands in front of her.
Nanna gently placed her cup and saucer on the table. "Max is busy. And of course, he wouldn't come here himself. He's too shy."
Lia snorted. If she remembered correctly, the man had women swarming all over him, especially now that he'd become so successful. Any room he entered, the vultures flew to him like bees to honey. The man was lethal. Dangerous. One look, one glance, and they swooned at his feet.
Not Lia, though. She'd been immune to him even when he'd become popular in high school, and every girl they'd known had wanted to be "Max's girl." But then what did she know? She'd been forced to grow up with him, and he'd terrorized her since childhood. He was the brother she'd never asked for. Half the time, she'd wanted to kill him.
Grammy Carol smiled. "We would have loved to see the two of you together, but obviously, that will never happen."
Lia froze. Oh, God, here they go again. "Are you guys trying —?"
"No. We realize you two would not suit. We just don't approve of the women my grandson has been seeing."
She let out a breath of relief. For a moment, she'd been scared they were scheming to hook her and Max up. Again. They just wanted Max to find the right woman. She could deal with that as long as it didn't involve her in any way. But the image of Lindsay Forks wrapping her arms around him fueled the anger she'd suppressed over the years. Not that it mattered. She'd long forgotten the feel of his chest pressed against hers, the tenderness in his eyes when he looked at her, or the way he'd —
"What do you want me to do?"
Carol and Maria exchanged nervous glances.
"We want you to talk to Max." Carol edged closer to the desk. "He doesn't know we're here."
Lia sat up. "Talk to him about what?"
Nanna sighed. "You two are not getting any younger. We want to see Max settle down with the right woman and start a family. And we think finding him a date will be the first step."
Lia blinked. "I can't just throw women at him if he hasn't agreed to the service. There's paperwork that needs to be filled out, preferences that need to be noted. How am I supposed to know what he's looking for if he doesn't come talk to me?"
"That's the thing. He won't come here. He's a man." Carol pounded a small fist on the table.
A laugh slipped past Lia's lips. "I can't. It goes against my business ethics. He has to want to sign up for my service."
"Honey, it'll be good business for you. Once Max's friends see what magic you can do, they'll probably want to sign up, too." Nanna moved out of her chair and came around the desk. "You need the business. You just started up here."
Gripping the arm of her chair, Lia frowned. She did need the exposure. She'd gone through hell convincing her partner, who managed their bigger operation in New York City, to allow her to open a small branch office in Grant. They catered to the wealthy folk who didn't have time to go out and meet people on their own.
She dropped back into her seat and stared up at her grandmothers. "So you want me to approach Max? And then what?"
Grammy answered first. "Just tell him you're going to find him a date for the party and —"
"No, then he'll know we sent Lia." Nanna leaned against the edge of the desk and patted Lia's arm. "Just tell him that you need help, since you just moved back into town and your business is slow."
"Oh, I know." Grammy clapped her hands together. "He has Patty Walker's charity function this weekend. He could bring you and help you network."
Lia's fingers balled into fists. The day she asked Max for help with her business would be the day she checked herself into a psych ward. Just because Carol's darling grandson succeeded in everything he set his little heart on, didn't mean she wasn't capable of accomplishing her own goals. She needed no one. "It's slow because we just opened, but I can find ways to get word out about True Connections."
Her nanna stood up. "So then have Max help you do that. He has great connections. A lot of single people go to these fundraisers that he helps sponsor."
Lia frowned. "What makes you think Max won't know you two sent me if I tell him to sign up with my company?"
"He won't know. He'll just think you're seeking him out for business advice or something."
Lia lifted an eyebrow. Max wasn't stupid. "Nanna ..."
"He wouldn't turn you down. Afterward, just tell him that you're going to give him ..." Nanna looked around the office. "Maybe a free matchmaking package of sorts."
It wouldn't work. Lia and Max had a pact. Once he saw her, he would know. "I seriously don't think it'll be that easy. You know Max and I don't get along."
Carol shook her head. "He cares for you in his own way, honey."
Lia snorted. If he cared, he had a fine way of showing it.
Nanna stood, moved to her seat, and picked up her purse. "Then it's settled. We need to get going. We have a lunch date with the cute doctor down the street."
Carol held up a hand as she followed Nanna out. "We do have to go. We don't want to keep Wilford waiting for us."
Lia swallowed her frustration and walked the ladies down the stairs, and to the front entrance.
Nanna paused at the door. "Remember, you promised to come hang frames and help me decorate for the Valentine's Day party. Dina can't do it this year. She won't be back from her ski trip with Henry until the tenth."
Lia shrugged. Her mother was never around for anything. Always jet-setting off to the next vacation spot with the rich boyfriend of the moment. Since Lia had moved back, she'd only seen Dina McEvers a handful of times.
Her mother's neglect wasn't anything new. It had been one of the reasons Lia had needed to leave. She refused to be like Dina, jumping from one rich man to another. But then look what happened to Lia — she hadn't been enough for Steve.
"Okay." She hugged each woman and kissed their cheeks. Leaning against the cool glass, she watched them cross the small parking lot to the car. Her thoughts turned to Max.
How could she get out of this one?
Lia needed a plan. As much as she didn't want to disobey them, she would do whatever it took to make them happy. Max would do the same. She'd approach him and tell him what their grandmothers were plotting.
Then she'd go back to her life and forget he existed. As usual.
Max continued to stand firm, ignoring his secretary, and watched the bulldozer crash into the brick building he'd just purchased. He loved the destruction, loved knowing something magnificent would take its place soon. The department store would bring in more profit, and give the people of Grant somewhere new to spend their money. Triumph settled in his bones as the oversized metal ball swung at the ruins. He smiled, his heart pumping, adrenaline tearing through his veins.
He pivoted, ready to give Sara hell for interrupting his moment. She knew how much he enjoyed his time at the sites. Next time, he'd be sure not to bring her. "Was there something you needed?"
Sara grimaced. "You have a visitor."
Max glanced past her and appreciation struck him. His eyes trailed over black curls under a hard hat, full ruby red lips, a delicate jaw, and a small frame encased in a long black coat. He stopped short at the tall leather boots hugging her slender calves and felt his groin tighten. A slow smile spread over his face as he leisurely returned his gaze to her face, but he stilled at the fierce emerald glare. Recognition hit.
Lia McEvil was back.
Swallowing hard, he reminded himself to stay calm. His brain screamed to run, but he stood still and crossed his arms over his chest. "Lia McEvers. Why are you here?"
She closed the distance between them until she stood next to him. He noted the stubborn jut of her chin and the displeased purse of her lips. Just like Nanna Maria.
She waved a hand at the rubble. "What are you building?"
He turned to face the bulldozer and drew in a deep breath, irritation stifling his earlier excitement. The pleasure in destruction dwindled. "Department store. Maybe sporting goods, but we'll see how high the bids are."
"Aren't you the businessman nowadays?"
He ignored her sarcasm, and instead watched as the steel ball swung at the already crumbling structure. His heart jumped as more bricks fell. It probably wasn't smart to be building much during this time of the year, but he had the money and the crew power to make things happen. With a heavy sigh, he glanced at Lia. She barely reached his shoulders, but the lack of height didn't make her any less dangerous. "Surprised I haven't seen you around Gram's house since you've been back."
Lia ran her tongue across her bottom lip, then worried the flesh. A wave of heat brushed over him even though it was close to freezing outside.
"I've been busy."
Sure, she'd been busy ... avoiding him and everyone else, no doubt. His mind filled with memories of when she'd announced her plans to ditch Grant, as if their hometown wasn't good enough for her. It happened the day after the hot kiss they'd shared at a party. He'd punched some drunk for groping her in the middle of the dance floor, and dragged her out into the parking lot. Shaking with fear, she'd thrown herself into Max's arms, and her softness had teased him into action. Attraction burned. Passion overcame him. Hatred for Lia McEvil turned to desire.
And that had scared him to hell.
Drawing his attention from his thoughts, he pasted on a grin. "Congrats. A matchmaking service, huh?"
She glowered at the land site. "What do you know? All you do is make money and show off what you can do with it."
"How would you know? You haven't been around for the past five years."
"Like Grammy Carol doesn't give you updates on what I do. Our grandmothers share everything."
They did share everything. It was annoying. There wasn't a moment his grandmother didn't veer their conversation to Lia. He quelled the urge to ask about her creep of an ex-fiancé — whom she'd chosen over him. "So, what are you doing here?"
She turned to face him, settling her fists at her hips. "Oh you know, the usual. Just to see if you've dropped dead yet."
His eyebrow lifted. "I had to wait for you to come back first."
Lia glared again. "Look, I didn't come to argue with you. We have a problem on our hands."
He stiffened. He hated those words. "How bad is it?"
With a deep sigh, Lia dropped her arms to her sides. "It's bad."
"Worse than that time they sent us on that couple's cruise, and you got sick and pushed me overboard?"
Excerpted from True Connections by Clarissa Yip, Libby Murphy. Copyright © 2012 Clarissa Yip. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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