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       Make Me A Match (The Matchmaker), p.1

           Lori Brighton
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Make Me A Match (The Matchmaker)

  Make Me a Match

  By Lori Brighton

  Copyright 2013 Lori Brighton

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above , no part of this publication may be reproduced , stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Editing by Pam Berehulke of Bulletproof Editing

  Cover art and design by Ronnell D. Porter

  Make Me a Match

  Lori Brighton

  For Alison, who knows me best of all.

  Michigan, USA

  Chapter 1


  “Come on. Make your move, you jerk.”

  Three freaking weeks. For three freaking weeks I’d been watching him. Three freaking weeks I’d been forced to shadow his every dull move…spying on some pathetic loser’s life in order to get that one photo opportunity that would pay next month’s rent.

  It had never bothered me before. Why, now, did I feel so frustrated?

  I sighed and lowered the camera. Spying was way less fun than it was portrayed on television, especially when it revolved around watching from the shrubbery while middle-aged perverts tried to pick up women half their age. No cloaks and daggers for me. No running for my life through narrow European alleys. Certainly no mysterious hot men coming to my rescue.

  “Emma! Emma! I have the telephoto lens.” Lizzie’s voice carried easily across the parking lot, no doubt drawing the attention of the numerous patrons who were enjoying the outside deck…including the man we were spying on.

  Glaring over my shoulder, I pressed my finger to my lips. “What part of incognito don’t you understand?”

  My sister frowned, tottering as she climbed over the curb and stepped into the pea gravel that surrounded the lilacs and azaleas. She handed me the lens. “Sorry. Sheesh, you’re in a mood.”

  I ignored her comment, having more important things to worry about than her overly sensitive thin skin. A deck with tables took advantage of the lake view while Bob Marley played on outdoor speakers. Our target was currently reclining in a bamboo-framed chair, bobbing his head in time to the music, but his gaze, oh yes, his gaze remained focused on the bar.

  “Did anyone see me?” Lizzie asked, smoothing down her white pencil skirt and kneeling carefully beside me.

  I’d been hiding in front of the pub for a good thirty minutes now, waiting for our target to make his move, and Lizzie had almost blown my cover in the mere two minutes since she’d arrived. “I don’t know, but just in case, you need to hide.”

  Lizzie dropped to her knees, grimacing when the gravel bit into her tender flesh. “He looks pretty normal for a cheater.”

  “Don’t they all,” I mumbled, wondering what my sister had been thinking by wearing a skirt and heels to a stakeout.

  But Lizzie was a novice. Beyond a novice. She’d never make it as a spy. She was too naive, too innocent. Heck, she read romance novels, for God’s sake. The first thing this business taught a person was that the idea of true love was a ridiculous myth that housewives clung to in order to give meaning to their mundane lives. Yep, they clung to the idea until I arrived, camera in hand, to show them just how in love their husbands were…with the maid, the neighbor, the wife’s best friend, or the woman twenty years younger they’d met at a bar.

  The target looked our way. “Get down!”

  Lizzie dropped to her belly with a grunt, half falling into the lilac bush we were hiding behind. The purple blooms rattled in protest, sending their overwhelming perfume through the warm evening air. She might as well have waved a white flag, proclaiming to all our location. I closed my eyes and sighed. Counting to twenty helped…sometimes.

  Still, it was a family business, which is why I didn’t fire her, and although it was hard juggling the PI firm and school, it was something I wasn’t ready to give up. Lizzie, on the other hand, would have given up years ago. I might have inherited our grandfather’s sleuthing ways, but not Lizzie. One thing was certain, she would never be a private investigator. Not like me. She was too positive, too bubbly, while I was made to crush the hopes and dreams of couples in love. And yeah, I might have even taken a perverse pleasure in proving to women that men were nothing but jerks. Attractive jerks, jerks I occasionally wanted to kiss, but jerks all the same. It was the one thing, the only thing, I was sure of.

  “Stay still,” I whispered.

  Lizzie nodded, her auburn ponytail waving back and forth.

  When I was younger, I’d envied my sister’s ease at conversation and making friends. While she’d been liked by all, I’d always been the quiet good girl everyone overlooked. The girl who’d had too much responsibility taking care of her little sister and a depressed mother to attend basketball games and pep rallies. And now, heck, I was seventeen and had only been on a handful of lame dates.

  But the past was the past. There was no use in dwelling. Pushing aside my dark thoughts, I looked through the lens of my camera, watching Kelly make her move. It didn’t take much; with a rack like hers, the gorgeous blonde had only to give a small smile and they’d come running like dogs in heat. I’d found the girl working in a strip club, and Kelly had been only too eager to leave the smoky joint.

  The former stripper gave a little toss of her head, her long blonde locks shimmering under the setting sun. I was pretty sure Kelly loved taking down the same sort of slimeballs she’d been forced to endure for the five years of her adult life in that club.

  “The man in the blue button-down,” I said into the tiny microphone pinned to the lapel of my jacket. “Looking your way now.”

  Kelly gave a discreet nod and glanced over her shoulder toward our target. There it was…the smile. The poor sap didn’t have a chance. He surged from his chair, his eagerness almost tangible. With an arrogance that belied his thinning hair and middle-age paunch, he sauntered toward Kelly.

  The man had money. That was obvious by the clothing he wore and the Jag he drove, and people with money thought they were gods. He leaned against the bar, his string of drool practically sliding down Kelly’s cleavage.

  “You come here often?” came through my earpiece.

  I snorted and stretched out upon my belly to get a better angle. Seriously? The man had made millions in the stock market and that was the best line he could come up with? I almost felt sorry for him…almost. Thankful for the leather jacket I wore, I settled my elbows into the gravel.

  I needed that money shot, the photo his wife could use to take him for everything he owned, and with Kelly’s good looks and his neediness, it wouldn’t take long. Once I got that shot I could go home, soak in a tub, and forget for a short while the heartache I witnessed every day. It was, undoubtedly, the worst part of the job, handing that picture to the wife, proof that her husband wasn’t the man she thought she’d married. But better
to know now than later. Right? I shook aside the thought. Besides, the check she’d write afterward made up for my unease. At least, that’s what I told myself.

  A soft breeze blew in from Lake Michigan, sending small purple blooms raining through the air. Perhaps I’d go to the beach for a bit. When I was lying in the sand, my eyes half-closed, I could pretend I was on the Mediterranean.

  Kelly giggled at something the target said, but I barely paid attention. I’d get it all on tape and go over it later. I was good at my job. The best. Grandpa would be proud, although I doubted he’d appreciate our newest clientele…cheating men. But you had to make money any way you could, and we definitely needed the money.

  Still, lately I’d found my mind drifting, my attention wavering. Although the family business was as busy as ever, life seemed…lacking. I needed a vacation. A little time to recoup. Heck, I needed an actual life. I might not be able to afford the Mediterranean, but maybe I could talk Lizzie into driving to Florida for spring break. Nothing like string bikinis, illegal beer, and drunk frat guys to make a girl feel special.

  Our target leaned closer, resting a possessive hand on Kelly’s thigh. I smiled and clicked. “Perfect. Now give me just a little more. Mama needs vacation money.”

  “Is he going to kiss her?” Lizzie said a little too loudly, peering through the branches.

  “Shhhh,” I hissed.

  He leaned in, whispering nauseating nothings into Kelly’s ear. Click. I tried not to gag. How Kelly could allow these men to paw her, I hadn’t the slightest idea. Then again, I’d broken the guy’s finger who had dared to grab my butt at a bar last week. What could I say? I liked my personal space.

  “You know,” Lizzie whispered. “You should totally be the decoy. A little makeup, put some gel in your hair…”

  I resisted the urge to sigh. “Lizzie, please, like I want those guys pawing me.” As if to prove my point, the man leaned toward Kelly, his hand cupping the side of her face. Click. Click. “Yes, there we go. Kiss her, you sick freak.”

  “It worries me how thrilled you are when you take these men down.”

  I frowned. “Why shouldn’t I be? These men lie to their wives, their families—they should be destroyed. They’re arrogant jerks who think they can get away with anything.”

  “Yeah, but it’s totally clouding your aura.”

  I slid her a glance. At times I wasn’t sure if my sister was being serious or not. Surely no one could truly be that optimistic and clueless. For her sake, I hoped she was joking.

  I shook my head and refocused on Kelly. The target was leaning in close. So close. Here came the money shot. The thrill of victory coursed bittersweet through my veins as I knew deep down that my win was someone else’s loss. He leaned closer, and I held my breath.

  “Excuse me,” a refined British voice called out from behind us.

  I froze. Crap. Perhaps if I ignored him, he’d go away. Frantically, I continued to push that button, click, click, click, attempting to get the money shot before this man, whoever he was, ruined everything. “The owner knows me. I have permission to be on his property.”

  Which was true, sort of. I’d had permission last year, before someone had complained.

  I pushed the button again. Click. Mentally, I urged the target to move closer to Kelly. Come on, come on. Why wasn’t he kissing her? She was totally kissable!

  “Uh, no,” the guy insisted. “You’ve misunderstood.”

  Lizzie nudged me in the arm, pushing me off-balance and making me drop the camera a few inches. I sighed and glanced over my shoulder, intending to give the man a piece of my mind. But his polished dress shoes momentarily surprised me into silence. My gaze moved from his feet to his pressed slate-gray trousers, up to his jacket and vest, complete with pristine white shirt underneath.

  Lounge and beachwear were the norm here. Even the millionaires who visited from Chicago wore their Hawaiian shirts, attempting their best imitation of Jimmy Buffett. What Ivy League college had this guy crawled from, and why the heck was he here in Podunk, Michigan?

  “I’m busy.”

  He cleared his throat, shifting the briefcase from his right hand to his left. “It’s important.”

  Nineteen or twenty, he couldn’t have been much older. But he carried a briefcase? Weird. Maybe he was older than I first guessed. He was tall, with broad shoulders and strong hands. A workman’s hands that belied his businessman attire. Curious, I couldn’t help but lift my gaze to his face. Square, smooth jaw. Firm lips. Sunlight glinted off dark hair, trimmed neatly and parted perfectly to the side. Wire-rimmed glasses covered his green eyes. My gaze jumped back to his. No, not just green. Intensely green. My heart squeezed slightly in surprise. If he ditched the glasses and suit, he’d have women eating out of his hands.

  He was a total hot nerd. Like Clark Kent. I’d always had a thing for superheroes. I rolled back to my belly, intent on ignoring the man, and more importantly intent on ignoring the heat of attraction swirling in my gut.

  Had Louie gotten a new manager? He was certainly taking his position rather seriously, if his suit were any indication. The former manager’s idea of dress clothing was an unstained wife-beater and jeans.

  “Emma!” Lizzie cried out. “He’s kissing her!”

  “Shoot!” I lifted the camera and started clicking before I’d even focused on the target. Sure enough, the man was pressing his mouth along Kelly’s delicate jaw. I should have been paying attention. I could have missed the shot and the paycheck, all because of a guy with brilliant green eyes. I definitely needed a vacation.

  “You are Ms. Emma Watts?” the Englishman behind me persisted.

  I didn’t dare look back or stop pushing that camera button, afraid I’d lose my opportunity. “Maybe.”

  “I have something for you. Papers and…such.”

  Papers. A man wearing a suit.

  Realization hit like a punch to the stomach. I should have known. A freaking lawyer. I jerked around, looking up at him. Grandpa had been sued more than once. “You’ve got the wrong person—”

  “Your aunt has died,” he said, ignoring my protest.

  Relief was sweet. Not getting sued. Thank God. Although Grandpa always won the cases, it had taken time and money, neither of which I had. As the relief gave way, curiosity settled in. Aunt? As far as I knew, I didn’t have an aunt. “Like I said, wrong person. So either leave, or get down. You’re blowing my cover.”

  He frowned, looking more than annoyed, but finally knelt beside me. The warm scent of spice and male swirled through the air, momentarily interrupting my concentration. Visiting bars and seedy motels, I’d spent more time than I cared to around men who barely bathed. I’d forgotten what a clean guy smelled like. He smelled good…really, really good.

  “As I said, your aunt Clarice has died.”

  Lord, his eyes were even more intense up close. A brilliant green, like moss after a spring rain. I shook my head. Pretty soon I’d be spouting poetry. I never should have sneaked a peak at Lizzie’s latest romance novel.

  “We don’t have an Aunt Clarice,” Lizzie replied for me, giving the man a brilliant smile. A smile that had sent plenty of males panting to their knees. Sure enough, the man gave her a hesitant smile back…ensnared.

  Annoyed with their little display of mutual flirtation, I looked away. Every day it was the same. Even though she was a year younger, guys always fell for Lizzie’s innocent and charming personality. I supposed it didn’t hurt that Lizzie was as hot as a supermodel with a body straight from a Victoria’s Secret catalog. While I was…well…me.

  “She’s on your father’s side,” he explained.

  “Figures.” Anger fought with surprise. As much as I wanted to know what the heck was going on, my pride wouldn’t allow me to ask questions. I wanted nothing to do with my father, the man who’d abandoned us years ago for his secretary. How cliché. And I sure as heck wanted nothing to do with his family, a family who hadn’t even deemed it important to send a birthda
y card once in a while.

  “She’s left you something.” His warm breath brushed across the back of my neck, stirring the loose tendrils that had escaped my braid.

  I shivered, an unwelcome response to his nearness.

  “Oh my gosh!” Lizzie cried out in excitement. “What’d she leave her?”

  Curious, I glanced over my shoulder. “Money?”

  He frowned, as if finding talk about money vulgar. Typical snob. “No.”

  “Can I sell it for money?” I asked just to annoy him, and it worked.

  He sighed, obviously exasperated. “Well, not exactly.”

  I turned back around, hiding my grin. “Then I’m not interested.”

  How had this man found me, anyway? I did as much as possible to keep my address a secret, not wanting to incur the retaliation of some two-timing husband.

  Kelly was smiling at the target, leaning into him a little too desperately. Was he pulling back? I should have been coaching her, not thinking about my father, now of all times. Yes, ironically I coached Kelly on how to flirt. Me, a seventeen-year-old who rarely dated. But that was beside the point. How dare my father’s family leave me something. I wanted to shove whatever it was down their throats and hoped they choked on it. I didn’t need anything from my father’s family…ever.

  “Emma,” Lizzie hissed. “You’re being rude.”

  I glared at Lizzie. Had my sister forgotten how our father’s family had ignored us when we’d needed their support the most? She was way too forgiving for her own good. I sure as heck wasn’t going to appease some deathbed sense of guilt.

  The man sighed. “Ms. Watts, I don’t think you understand.”

  I turned around once more, my anger flaring. “Oh, I understand completely. You don’t seem to, though, so let me spell it out for you. I want nothing from the family who abandoned us when my father left. I want nothing from the family who never called, not even sent a card. Do you understand now, Mister…”

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