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Leo Reynolds wished he could marry his admin. It would make life so much simpler.
Unfortunately, she was already married and nearly twice his age. Plus, women didn't stick around once they figured out he worked a hundred hours a week on a consistent basis. Loneliness was the price of catapulting Reynolds Capital Management into the big leagues of the venture capital game.
"You're a life saver, Mrs. Gordon." Leo shot her a grateful smile and leaned back in his chair.
His laptop was refusing to speak to the printer and a critical document had gotten caught in the middle of the dispute. The signed hard copy now in his hand was due to Garrett Engineering on the other side of Dallas in less than an hour.
"I'd hardly call printing a proposal saving your life." Mrs. Gordon glanced at her watch in a deliberate gesture designed to point out the time. "It's late and it's Friday. Take Jenna to that new restaurant in Victory Park and let me handle the proposal. Relax for once. It'll be good for you."
Leo grimaced as a ping of remorse bloomed and faded. "Jenna and I split up. She's already seeing someone else."
Hopefully, the new relationship would make her happy. She deserved a man who could shower her with attention and affection. He regretted not being able to give her what she wanted, but it would be patently unfair to let Jenna keep hoping he'd ever become a man capable of focusing on a relationship. As a result, he'd lost a comfortable companion.
"Of course she is. It's not like she ever saw you." Mrs. Gordon crossed her arms and looked down her nose at Leo with a tsk. "Now who are you going to take to the museum dedication?"
Leo groaned. He'd conveniently forgotten about that, but it wasn't as if he could skip the dedication. The new children's museum in the Dallas Arts District bore his name, after all, since he'd donated the money to build it. "You're free next Saturday, aren't you?"
Mrs. Gordon cackled as though Leo had been joking. "One of these days, I'm going to say yes when you ask me out and really mess with you. If Jenna's not in the picture, find another woman. They seem to be pretty thick on the ground."
Yeah, he tripped over women on a regular basis who would like to go out with him. Or at least they thought they did, right up until they realized they wouldn't be satisfied with what little time and attention he could give. It never took very long to reach that point.
A vague hollow feeling invaded his gut, one he'd experienced more and more lately. He'd written it off as an increased urgency to hit that elusive, unachieved mark of success. But now that it had happened during a discussion about his personal life, he wasn't so convinced.
"I hate dating." And small talk. That getting-to-know-you period took time and energy he didn't care to expend. Reynolds Capital Management came first. Always.
"That's because you don't do it often enough."
Here they went, off on her favorite subject. She never got tired of scolding him about the lack of a permanent female in his life.
"Have you been talking to my mother again?"
"We went to lunch Tuesday, as a matter of fact. She says hi." Mrs. Gordon raised her eyebrows and planted guilt simultaneously, as Leo was sure she intended. He got it. He should call his mother. And date eligible women.
Problem was, he not only hated dating, he also hated constantly standing up dates and disappointing women who deserved better. But he liked companionship and, well, he was a guysex was nice, too. Why couldn't the perfect woman fall in his lap so he could focus on work?
"It is late," Leo said in what was no doubt a transparent attempt to change the subject. "Why don't you go home and I'll take the proposal to Garrett?"
He had until five o'clock to get it to Garrett Engineering, formally expressing his interest in doing business with them.
What Steve Jobs was to cell phones, Tommy Garrett was to internal combustion engines. Or would be, as soon as funding was in place. Garrett had invented a revolutionary modification to increase the gas mileage of a standard car engine and Leo intended to be Garrett's venture capital firm of choice. The partnership would net a sizable, long-term profit for both men, and Leo could do what he did bestpull strings behind the scenes.
If Leo won the deal.
No, not if. When.
Leo would never rest until his company hit that sweet spot of security, where longevity was a given, not a question mark. His first million hadn't done it. Neither had the first eight figures, because his profits went straight back into leveraged investments that wouldn't pay off until some point in the future. So he didn't rest.
"Since you've scared off yet another female with your dogged determination to work yourself into an early grave, be my guest." Mrs. Gordon waved her approval for Leo to deliver the proposal. "I filled up your car with gas this morning. It wouldn't kill you to glance at the gauge once in a while."
"Thanks. You're too good to me. By the way," Leo threw in as Mrs. Gordon pulled her handbag from a desk drawer,
"I was thinking of having a gathering at my house to wine and dine Tommy Garrett. If I ask very nicely, would you plan it?"
"It's not my job to be your stand-in wife." Mrs. Gordon firmed her mouth, which meant she had a lot more to say but didn't know how to do so tactfully. In the eight years she'd been keeping him sane, he'd seen that look a lot.
With a half laugh, Leo said, "Of course not. That's not part of your job description."
Except it had the ring of uncomfortable truth. When his hair grew too long, Mrs. Gordon scheduled a haircut. His mother's birthdayMrs. Gordon picked out the gift. The wine-and-dine request had been a bit of a blurred line, but based on the set of Mrs. Gordon's mouth, he'd pretty well turned the line into a trapezoid.
Mrs. Gordon shut down her computer for the night. "Well, it should be part of someone's job description."
"What, like a party planner?" Maybe he should hire a professional in some capacity, which wouldn't cover all his social obligations. But it was better than nothing.
"Like a girlfriend. Or someone who might actually still be around in six weeks. Hire a wife," she said with a nod. "You need a good woman to take care of you outside of the office. Ask her to glance at your gas gauge. She can schmooze Garrett and make sure your life is running smoothly. Keep you warm at night."
Her eyebrows waggled but Leo barely noticed.
Hire a wife.
Could you even do such a thing? It seemed too perfect a solution.
He had no timeor the desireto sift through women until he found one he liked but who also wouldn't expect him to be available. Reynolds Capital Management did not manage itself. His employees and partners depended on him.
A wife couldn't leave him with no notice. It was the ultimate security.
Leo would have a permanent companion to help fill that occasional hollow feeling, one with no hidden agenda involving his assets and connections. They'd both know from the get-go what to expectstability. There'd be no hard feelings when she realized he hadn't been kidding about giving 100 percent to his company, leaving nothing left over for her.
All or nothing. Commitment was Leo's kryptonite. Once he latched on to something, he gave it everything and then some. Early on, he'd realized that trait was inherited and tried not to make the same mistakes as his father.
Then he'd met Carmen, who taught him the true depths of his weaknesses, and how easily one obsession could become the center of his existence. He practiced putting everything but the goal aside until it was second nature.
Love or success. His personality didn't allow for both and after clawing his way out of the ghetto, he refused to gamble his future.
If he had an understanding wife, work and his personal life would remain completely separate. And best of all, Leo would never have to engage in small talk with a new woman or experience that sharp pang of guilt over canceling on one ever again.
Leo tugged on his suit jacket and hand delivered the proposal to Garrett's people in their tiny downtown office. It wouldn't be tiny for long. Investors far and wide were clamoring to get in on the ground floor with Garrett's technology. Once the company went public, its worth would shoot to legendary status.
Leo had to land the deal with Tommy Garrett, and the wine-and-dine thing would be a fantastic opportunity to solidify his chances. A wife could handle the logistics, leaving Leo to engage in uninterrupted dialogue with Garrett about what Reynolds Capital could do for him that no one else could. His offer to Garrett didn't expire for several weeks. He had plenty of time to get a wife in place.
When Leo returned to his darkened office, he sat at his laptop. Within fifteen minutes, Google provided a potential answer to the question of how to hire a wife. He'd had to wade through all the cleaning services and concierge services, then a few distasteful escort services, to find the definitive solution.
A matchmaking service.
Yes. Of course. It was not what he'd had in mind when he started the quest. Actually, he hadn't been sure what he'd intended to find. But this was an intriguing answer. Leo had always thought he'd get married one day, when he could afford to transfer his energy to a relationship. Yet here he was on the downside of thirty-five and Reynolds Capital Management still took all of his focus. All of his time.
He stared at the logo for EA International. The website was professional and tasteful, with earth tones and a classic font. Most importantly, this particular matchmaker catered to exclusive clients, promising discretion and a money-back guarantee. Guarantees warmed Leo's heart.
The tagline said it allLet us help you find "the one."
Presumably, "the one" for Leo would fit all his qualifications. EA International would do the screening, the interviewing, the background checks, and ultimately filter out candidates who were looking for some mystical connection. Love didn't pay the bills, and Leo would never allow the power to be turned off on his family, the way his own father had.
It was brilliant. The matchmaker would do everything required to find Leo a wife. One he could never disappoint. All he had to do was make a phone call.
Then, with that settled, he could get back to work.
Daniella White had dreamed of her wedding since the first time she'd created crayon invitations to a ceremony starring Mr. Fourpaws as the tattered velveteen groom and herself as the fairy-tale bride wrapped in dingy sheets. Someday she'd wear a beautiful dress of delicate lace and silver heels. The guests would receive heavy card-stock invitations with a vellum overlay and eat a three-tiered French vanilla cake with fondant flowers.
Best of all, a handsome husband-to-be would wait for her at the end of a church aisle, wearing a tender smile. Later that night, the love of her life would sweep her away to a romantic honeymoon somewhere exotic and breathtaking. Theirs would be a marriage of grand passion and enduring love.
When her real wedding day finally arrived, Dannie could never have envisioned it would involve a groom she'd never met in person. Or that in a few minutes, she'd be marrying Leo Reynolds in the living room of a matchmaker's house in North Dallas, with only a handful of guests in attendance.
"What do you think, Mom?" Dannie beamed at her mother in the cheval mirror and straightened a three-quarter-length sleeve. A dress of any sort usually appealed to Dannie, but this unadorned ecru one would be her wedding dress and she wanted to love it. She didn't. But she'd make the best of it, like always.
EA International's sophisticated computer program had matched her with businessman Leo Reynolds and he expected a wife with a certain refinementone who dressed the part, acted the part, lived the part. Dannie had spent the past month under the matchmaker's intensive tutelage to become exactly right for that part.
Dannie's mother coughed profusely, hand to her chest as if she'd clear the scar tissue from her lungs through sheer will alone. "You're beautiful, baby," she said when she'd recovered. "Every bit a proper wife. I'm so proud of what you've accomplished."
Yeah, it was really hard to put my name in a database. Dannie bit back the comment. She wasn't a smart aleck anymore. No one ever got her jokes anyway.
Two sharp raps at the door shoved Dannie's heart into her throat. Elise Arundel, Dannie's fairy godmother-slashmatchmaker, popped into the room, her sleek, dark pageboy swinging. "Oh, Dannie. You look lovely."
Dannie smiled demurely. She needed a lot of practice at being demure.
"Thanks to you."
"I didn't pick out that dress." Elise nodded once. "You did. It's perfect for your willowy frame. I've never had anyone who glommed on to cut and style with such natural talent."
"I made up for it by being hopeless with cosmetics." Dannie frowned. Did that seem too outspoken? Ungrateful? That was the problem with changing your personality to become a society wifenothing came naturally.
Elise's critical eye swept over Dannie's face and she dismissed the comment with a flick of her manicured hand. "You're flawless. Leo's socks will be knocked off."
And there went her pulse again.
The figure in the mirror stared back at her, almost a stranger, but with her dark brown hair and almond-colored eyes. Would Leo be happy with her sophisticated chignon? The erect posture? The scared-to-death woman in the ecru dress? What if he didn't like brunettes?
She was being silly. He'd seen her picture, of course, as she'd seen his. They'd spoken on the phone twice. Their conversations had been pleasant and they'd worked through several important marital issues: they'd allow the intimate side of their relationship to evolve over time, a clarification that had clinched it since he didn't believe he was buying an "exchange of services," and he was open to eventually having children.
Neither of them had any illusions about the purpose of this marriagea permanent means to an end.
Why was she so nervous about what was essentially an arranged marriage?
Her mother smoothed a hand over Dannie's hair. "Soon you'll be Mrs. Leo Reynolds and all your dreams will come true. For the rest of your life, you'll have the security and companionship I never had." Racking coughs punctuated the sentiment and the ticking clock in Dannie's mind sped up. Pulmonary fibrosis was killing her mother.
Dannie was marrying Leo to save her.
And she'd never forget what she owed him. What she owed Elise.
Her mom was right. Dannie had always dreamed of being a wife and mother and now she was getting that chance. Marriage based on compatibility would provide security for her and her mom. She had no business being sad that security couldn't be based on love.
Maybe love could grow over time, along with intimacy. She'd hang on to that hope.
With a misty smile, Elise opened the door wider. "Leo's waiting for you in front of the fireplace. Here's your bouquet. Simple and tasteful, with orchids and roses, like you requested."
The clutch of flowers nearly wrenched the tears loose from Dannie's eyes. "It's beautiful. Everything is beautiful. I can't thank you enough."
She still couldn't believe Elise had selected her for the EA International matchmaking program. When she'd applied, it had all seemed like such a long shot, but what choice did she have? Her mother needed expensive long-term care, which neither of them could afford, so Dannie gladly did whatever her mother neededdoctor's appointments, cooking, cleaning. Her father had left before she'd been born, so it had been the two of them against the world since the beginning.
Unfortunately, employers rarely forgave the amount of time off Dannie required. After being fired from the third job in a row, her situation felt pretty dire. She'd searched in vain for a work-from-home job or one with a flexible schedule. After hours at the library's computer, she'd been about to give up when the ad for EA International caught her eye.
Have you ever dreamed of a different sort of career? Coupled with a picture of a bride, how could she not click on it?