Love wasn’t supposed to be a part of the deal…
Even a famed matchmaker like Nolan Madaris’s great-grandmother can’t get it right every time. Nolan, the notorious fun-loving ladies’ man, could never connect with someone as straitlaced as tech whiz Ivy Chapman. Yet the scheme Ivy proposes is tempting—they can pretend to be a couple, just long enough to satisfy their families.
But someone forgot to clue in their hearts
What happens, though, when Ivy’s plan to get her relatives off her back has an unexpected side effect: getting her into Nolan’s bed? Houston’s number one womanizer may have found the only one who can truly satisfy him, body and soul. But with a man from Ivy’s past determined to be part of her future, both she and Nolan will have to decide what’s fake, what’s real and what’s worth fighting for…
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Fifteen months later ...
Nolan clicked off his mobile phone, satisfied with the call he'd just ended with Lee about his cousin's newest hotel, the Grand MD Paris. Construction of the huge megastructure had begun three weeks ago. Already it was being touted by the media as the hotel of the future and Nolan would have to agree.
This would be the third hotel Lee and his business partner, DeAngelo Di Meglio, had built. And knowing Lee and DeAngelo like he did, Nolan expected the Grand MD Paris to open its doors on time in two years with fanfare and the likes of a presidential inauguration.
Nolan's company, Madaris Innovations, would provide all the electronic and technology work for the Grand MD Paris; some would be the first of its kind anywhere. All high-tech and trend changing. It would be Nolan's first project of this caliber and he appreciated Lee and DeAngelo for giving him the opportunity.
After getting a master's degree at MIT, Nolan had begun working for Chenault Electronics at their Chicago office. Chenault Electronics was considered one of the top ten electronics companies in the world. The owner, Nicholas Chenault, was a family friend and had taken Nolan under his wing and had not only been his boss but his mentor as well. After eight years working for Chenault, Nolan had returned to Houston to start his own company.
Nolan leaned back in his chair. He had returned from spending two weeks in Paris just yesterday. In a way, he regretted being back in Houston. Before leaving, he had done everything in his power to become the life of every party, and his reputation as Houston's number one playboy had been cemented. In some circles, he'd been pegged as Mr. One-Night Stand since most of his dates were one-night stands. Now that he was back, that role had to be revived.
It hadn't taken him long to discover the life of a Casanova was pretty damn taxing and way too demanding. The nights of mindless, emotionless sex with women whose names he barely remembered wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. He only hoped that Ivy Chapman's grandmother and his great-grandmother were getting the message — he had no intentions of settling down anytime soon. At least not in the next twenty-five years or so.
Unfortunately, it seemed nothing was deterring Ivy Chapman.
Nolan picked up the envelope on top of the stack on his desk. He knew what it was and who it had come from. He recalled getting the first one three months ago and he had received several more since then. He wondered why Ivy Chapman was still sending him these little personal notes when he refused to acknowledge them. All of the notes said the same thing ... Nolan, I would love to meet you. Call me so it can be arranged. Here is my number ... Nolan didn't give a royal flip what her phone number was since he had no intentions of calling her. He would continue to ignore Miss Chapman and any correspondence she sent him. No matter what, he refused to give in to his great-grandmother's matchmaking shenanigans. He refused to be manipulated.
Tossing the envelope aside, he picked up his cell phone to call his family and let them know he was back. He had slept off jet lag most of yesterday and hadn't talked to anyone other than his cousin Reese and his brother Corbin. Reese and his wife, Kenna, were expecting their first baby in June and everyone was excited.
Nolan ended the call with his parents, stood and walked over to the window to look out. Like most of his relatives, he leased space in the Madaris Building. His electronics company was across the hall from Madaris Explorations, owned by his older cousin Dex.
He loved Houston in March, but it always brought out dicey weather. You had some warm days but there were days when winter refused to fade into the background while spring tried emerging. He was ready for warmer days and couldn't wait to spend time at the cottage he'd purchased last year on Tiki Island, which was on the Galveston Bay. He'd hired Ron Seamore as the property manager to handle the leasing of the cottage whenever he wasn't using it. So far it had turned out to be not only a great investment, but also a splendid getaway place whenever he needed a break from the demands of his job, life itself and yes, of course, the women who tried demanding his time.
The buzzer sounded and he walked back over to his desk. "Yes, Marlene?" Marlene was an older woman in her fifties who'd worked as his administrative assistant since he started the company three years ago.
"There's a woman here to see you, Mr. Madaris. She doesn't have an appointment and says it's important."
Nolan frowned, glancing at his watch. It wasn't even ten in the morning. Who would show up at his office without an appointment and at this hour? "Who is she?" "A Miss Ivy Chapman."
He guessed she was tired of sending notes that went unanswered. Hadn't she heard around town what a scoundrel he was? The last man any woman should be interested in? So what was she doing here?
There was only one way to find out.
"Send her in, Marlene."
"Yes, Mr. Madaris."
Nolan had eased into his jacket and straightened his tie before his office door swung open. The first thing he saw was a huge bouquet of flowers that was bigger than the person carrying them. Why was the woman bringing him flowers? Did she honestly think a huge bouquet of flowers would work when her cute little notes hadn't?
He couldn't see the woman's face for the huge vase of flowers, and without saying a word, not even so much as a good morning, she plopped the monstrosity on his desk with a loud thump. It was a wonder the vase hadn't cracked. Hell, maybe it had. He could just imagine water spilling all over his desk.
Nolan looked from the flowers that were taking up entirely too much space on his desk to the woman who'd unceremoniously placed them there. He was not prepared for the beauty of the soft brown eyes behind a pair of thick-rimmed glasses or the perfect roundness of her face and the creamy cocoa coloring of her complexion. And he couldn't miss the fullness of her lips that were pursed tight in anger.
"I'm only going to warn you but this once, Nolan Madaris. Do not send me any more flowers. Doing so won't change a thing. I've decided to come tell you personally — the same thing I've repeatedly told your great-grandmother and my grandmother — there is no way I'd ever become involved with you. Ever."
Her words shocked him to the point that he could only stand there and stare at her. She'd crossed her arms over her chest and stared back. "Well?" she asked in a voice filled with annoyance when he continued to stare at her and say nothing. "Do I make myself clear?"
Finding his voice, Nolan said, "You most certainly do. However, there's a problem and I consider it a major one."
Those beautiful eyes were razor sharp and directed at him. "And just what problem is that?"
Now it was he who turned a cutting gaze on her. "I never sent you any flowers. Today or ever."
Ivy Chapman stared at the man who had the gall to make such an outlandish statement. Of course he'd been sending her flowers. His name had been signed on every card. She'd got one bouquet after another over the past three months. And the card always said the same thing. Ivy, I would love to meet you. Call me so it can be arranged. Here is my number ...
"What do you mean you didn't send me any flowers?"
Dark eyes filled with agitation bored into her. "Just what I said. I haven't sent you any flowers."
"Are you or are you not Nolan Madaris?" She asked the question, although she knew the answer. Over the past year his face had appeared often in the Houston newspapers as one of the city's most eligible bachelors.
"Yes, I'm Nolan Madaris. At least one of them. I'm the third. My father is the second and my grandfather is the first. However, I can say with a degree of certainty that they didn't send you any flowers either."
Ivy frowned. "Look at the card. If it didn't come from you, then who did it come from?"
The man had the nerve to scowl at her before snatching the envelope off the flowers and opening it. A frown spread across his lips before he glanced back at her. "Regardless of my name being on this card, I didn't send these flowers or any others you might have received, Miss Chapman. However, I might know who did, and it's probably the same person who's been sending me little notes from you."
Surprise lit her eyes. "What little notes? I haven't been sending you any notes."
"You haven't?" he asked, retrieving a small envelope from his desk and handing it to her. "Is this not from you?"
She took the envelope, opened it and pulled out the note card inside and read it. Moments later, she shifted her gaze back to him. "Certainly not."
He nodded. "I believe you. And just so you know, I've received several personal note cards over the past three months, supposedly from you. Just like you received those flowers, supposedly from me."
Ivy paused to collect herself. It was crystal clear they'd been played. "Who on earth would ..." She stopped midsentence, when a person immediately came to mind. "My grandmother."
"And my great-grandmother," he said.
"Ms. Laverne?" she asked as her gaze moved to the wall on the other side of his desk where a huge portrait of the woman she knew to be Felicia Laverne Madaris hung.
"You know my great-grandmother?"
"Yes," Ivy said, returning her gaze to his. "She and my grandmother have been good friends for years. I'm told their friendship began when Nana got her first teaching job out of college."
He nodded. "You are aware they want to matchmake us?" he asked her.
Yes, she'd been aware of it but had chosen to ignore it. "Yes, but I never thought they would go this far."
"Well, obviously, they did," he said, throwing the card he'd been holding down on his desk. "I don't know about you, Miss Chapman, but I won't put up with this," he said in a tone filled with anger. "I refuse to be manipulated and will be dealing with my great-grandmother for her part in this."
Ivy felt so embarrassed by how she'd stormed into his office ready to give him hell. She should have known better. Men who looked like him didn't pursue women who looked like her. She was definitely not his type, if the tabloid pictures of him with his many, many women were anything to judge by. That fact should be obvious to his great-grandmother and her grandmother.
"I intend to deal with my grandmother as well. I just don't understand. Of all people, my grandmother knows the last thing I'd want is to be involved with a man like you."
His gaze narrowed. "And what exactly is 'a man like me'?"
Did he really want her to spell it out for him? In that case, she had no problem doing so. "Mr. Madaris, you have quite a reputation around town. There obviously isn't a commitment bone in your body. No woman in her right mind who's looking for a serious relationship would look your way."
He crossed his arms over his chest. A very broad, very firm, very fine-looking chest, she couldn't help but notice. "And are you looking for a serious relationship, Miss Chapman?"
"No, and of all people my grandmother should know that. Good day, Mr. Madaris. I apologize for bothering you."
She turned to leave with as much dignity as she could muster after such an embarrassing encounter. The reality of the situation was that they'd been played by two crafty old women. "Hey, wait a minute. And just what am I supposed to do with these flowers?"
Ivy turned back around, met his gaze and lifted her chin. She tried ignoring that dark penetrating gaze that seemed to see to the heart of her. "The same thing you can do with those cards that I didn't send. Trash them."
She paused and looked at the flowers. "On second thought, they are way too pretty to be trashed."
And they were. A huge assortment of white lilies, blue delphiniums, alstroemerias and yellow roses in a beautiful ceramic vase. "I suggest you drop them off at a hospital or nursing home. That's what I did with all the others. Or you can give them to your great-grandmother."
And with that, Ivy turned and walked out of his office.
Ivy Chapman had insulted him, and very few women did that. In fact, Nolan couldn't name one who ever had. He should feel delighted, downright overjoyed that his strategy had worked and she'd thought he was a two-bit womanizer. However, something was keeping him from being filled with over-the-top excitement. Probably the realization that he'd been conned by his great-grandmother.
He'd told Corbin over a year ago that he refused to come up with some elaborate plan to counteract his great-grandmother's shenanigans. There was no plan that could outsmart Felicia Laverne Madaris. Rather, he was simply going to enjoy life — and women — to the fullest. A strategy aimed at deterring the woman his great-grandmother had selected as his bride.
He figured sooner or later Miss Chapman would get wind of his womanizing ways and come to the conclusion that he was a man incapable of ever committing to any one woman. The most logical thing for her to do would be to put up as much resistance to a Madaris-Chapman match as he would be doing. That's why those notes had annoyed the hell out of him. It seemed no matter how many women he became involved with, she was determined not to go anywhere. Now he knew that hadn't been the case at all and his strategized efforts had worked.
So why was it bothering him that she was thinking the very thing he'd wanted her to think about him? Maybe his agitation was due to the mere fact that he found Miss Chapman attractive. She had nice features, including a gorgeous pair of eyes and nice-shaped lips. Both her eyes and lips could definitely captivate a man. His only question was why was she dressed so conservatively? And why would his great-grandmother assume, given his taste in women, that he would be interested in her?
He was used to beautiful women who considered themselves fashion divas. They not only dressed to impress but dressed to possess ... namely a man's heart if given the chance. And he knew for a fact none would be caught wearing the buttoned-up-to-the-neck blouse and the long skirt Miss Chapman had worn. Nor would they have put a pair of low-heel pumps on their feet. Most women, for business or otherwise, wore stilettos to showcase their legs.
She hadn't been wearing any makeup. However, he thought she had beautiful skin without the use of any. He'd also noticed there hadn't been any polish on her fingernails, no rings on her fingers, no bracelets on her wrists and no necklace around her neck. But she had worn a pair of gold hoop earrings in her ears.
He couldn't help but be curious about Ivy Chapman. Was she a woman who didn't have a problem not being cut from the same cloth, and wasn't trying to impress anyone but herself? If that was the case, he found her rather unique.
But if that wasn't the case and she was nothing more than an uptight, straitlaced businesswoman who was a man hater as well, then she was the type of woman he stayed away from. But regardless of what type of woman she was, he would stay as far away from her as he could, mainly because his great-grandmother assumed she was the perfect woman for him.
But still, his curiosity about her wouldn't go away and he decided he would Google her and find out more about her. He suddenly realized he looked like a damn fool sitting there with a huge vase of flowers staring him in the face while he gave Ivy Chapman far too much thought. It would be just his luck for one of his many relatives who worked in the building to show up and see the huge bouquet. He would never hear the last of it. Especially, if they got wind of the story behind them. He pushed the intercom button.
"Yes, Mr. Madaris?"
"Marlene, please step into my office and bring the rolling cart with you."
Moments later his administrative assistant opened his office door and rolled the metal cart in as he'd instructed. "Take these flowers and have them delivered to one of the hospitals in the area." He refused to give them to Mama Laverne like Miss Chapman had suggested. His great-grandmother deserved a harsh scolding and not any flowers.
After Marlene left his office, Nolan Googled Ivy Chapman. The photo on her website looked just as conservative as the real thing. Her hair was in that bun thing again and those same earrings were in her ears.
She owned a cybersecurity business, Cyber-Tech Securities. And it was described as "a unique technology company, specializing in moving the twenty-first century into the twenty-second." She stated her occupation as a cybersecurity analyst. In other words, she was a legal hacker.
Excerpted from "Best Laid Plans"
Copyright © 2018 Brenda Streater Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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