Make You Mine
by Tawny TaylorChapter 1
Roughly three hundred sixty three days a year, I knew without a doubt I had the world’s best job. Spending afternoons lounging in a café, mainlining white chocolate mocha Frappuccino, and nights sipping top shelf wine was not a bad way to make a buck. Especially when I was doing so while socializing with single men who were–for the most part–extremely pleasing to the eye, unbelievably rich, and in the market for love,.
But every now and then, I had a day like today.
“I need to find a man.” Poking at my salad, I cast a hopeful glance around the restaurant-slash-jazz-bar where my best friend and I were having our regular Friday night dinner, or at least, I was eating dinner. Sasha had opted for a liquid meal, as usual.
“Don’t we all, honey,” Sasha said with a chuckle as she gave her long hair a flip. “I haven’t been on a date in months.”
“Not for me, silly. I need to find a new client. I haven’t closed a deal in over a month. Not one.” I stabbed a tomato with my fork.
“Don’t worry. Your boss loves you.”
“Loved. Past tense, Sasha. I’m new. And the honeymoon’s over. The way things are looking, I’ll be collecting unemployment soon…and living under a bridge. Marguerite doesn’t smile when she sees me anymore; she glowers. It’s only a matter of time before I’m kicked to the curb.” I poked at my house salad, light dressing, with my fork. Clearly my definition of light didn’t match the waitress’.
“I wish I was.” Sasha, a novelist who was still living at home with her parents, hadn’t sold a book in two years, and had recently “parted ways” with her agent, might be neck deep in denial, but I wasn’t. As the sole source of income in my household, and a girl who’d learned not so long ago that I needed to do whatever was necessary to survive, I knew I needed to land a new contract. Soon. Like, yesterday.
Or I’d have to go crawling back to my mother’s sister for help.
I’d rather die than do that.
After my mother and father had been unjustly convicted of murdering my little brother four years ago, my aunt had been shoved into the role of surrogate parent. It wasn’t a role she filled eagerly.
I had to get a new contract. Had to.
But signing a new contract was easier said than done. Premier was the most prestigious matchmaking company in the state, catering to highly selective clients who required discretion and complete privacy. The chances of stumbling upon a man who’d meet Premier’s minimum requirements in a place like this–not that it was a dump–were slim to none. Regardless of the fact that it was a Friday night. And every booth and table was packed. And eligible men of all shapes, sizes, and ages were filing through the door at a steady clip.
The crappy odds weren’t going to stop me from looking, though. For one thing, because I was desperate. For another, it was fun. And lastly, because I was a firm believer in miracles.
“You ask me, that’s where you’re going wrong, Daryl.” Playing with her unlit clove cigarette, Sasha shook her head, her trademark let-me-tell-you-how-it-is look firmly in place. “Girl, you keep handing all the keepers over to other women. You deserve a good man too. Or a bad boy, as the case may be.” She winked.
“Mmmm,” I said, intentionally ignoring Sasha’s last statement. This conversation played between us at least once a month. She told me I needed to find myself a man. And I told her I was one hundred percent content to remain single for the rest of my life. It was ironic, I knew, that I was selling the one thing I would do just about anything to avoid, but I had my reasons. Call me jaded, but I’d come to the conclusion that bachelors my age didn’t want to settle down. No matter what they said in an interview. At least, they didn’t want to settle down with a girl like me. Especially not the kind of men who paid for a Premier membership. “Seems to me, we’ve gone down this road before.”
Sasha sighed so hard her bangs fluttered in the breeze she stirred up. “I’m so tired of arguing about this.”
“So am I.” There was one surefire way to put a quick halt to this conversation before it got out of hand. “Look at that,” I said. “You need another beer. Maybe we’d better order two.” I waved the waitress over to order a couple more beers for my annoying but loveable friend.
“Mom is on another one of her trips.” Looking a little pathetic, Sasha plunked her elbow on the table and dropped her chin onto her hand. “And I don’t want to go home to an empty house tonight.” She tipped her head toward a group of male newcomers, crowding around the bar to watch the last few minutes of the hockey game. “Maybe I can find me some company.”
“Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” I asked around a mouthful of soggy iceberg lettuce. “I told you I would stay the night.”
“Oh, honey. Of course you’re not chopped liver.” Sasha gave me a little pat on the shoulder. “But, no offense, spooning with you just doesn’t cut it.” Her smile was slightly wilted around the edges, like my salad.
How I hated salad.
Deciding I’d eaten enough, I set my plate to the side. “I told you to come into the office and I would hook you up.”
“I don’t need any help picking a man. I do just fine on my own, thankyouverymuch. Hey, that one over there, with the dark eyes and wavy hair has promise. And look at that, he has a tattoo. That makes three hottie points in my book.” Sasha slid forward in her seat as the waitress trotted over with two longneck bottles of their best Canadian beer, set them on the table, and took my half-eaten dinner away. Sasha took a swig out of one then set it down, the glass clunking against the polished wood table. “I think I’ll go out to smoke later.” She dug into her purse, returning the cigarette to its case and producing a pack of gum. “How’s my lipstick?” She puckered. “I’m going in for a ring-check, instead.”
“Hold on.” I leaned over, getting a look at her target’s backside. “Forget it. Your three-point hottie is wearing jeans from Wal-Mart. You might as well go out and smoke.”
“What? Damn.” Sasha popped a couple of pieces of gum out of the foil pack and dumped them in her mouth. “Are you sure? How can you tell?”
“It’s my job. I can spot a pair of Wranglers from fifty yards.”
“You continue to amaze me.” Sasha leaned forward, her breath reeking of mint and beer. “Show me, oh wise one.”
Trying to look inconspicuous, I motioned to Mr. Wrangler whispering, “You can’t miss the big, ugly tag on the waistband.”
“Ah, but what if he’s wearing a belt?”
“Then, you can check the back pocket. But you’ve got to get closer to do that. The pocket tag is a lot smaller.”
“Mmmm, mmmm.” Sitting back again, Sasha snatched her beer up. “I wouldn’t mind getting closer to that tush.”
“Which is exactly why you need me to pick your next man.”
Bottle at her mouth, Sasha shook her head, setting her dangly earrings into a violent swing of silver flash. “You can’t. I don’t meet Premier’s minimum requirements, remember? What a joke. Who says a zillionaire can’t fall in love with someone like me? The girl next door. It happens all the time.”
I cringed. There was no denying the hurt I heard in Sasha’s voice whenever we talked about my job. But the truth was I wouldn’t meet Premier’s minimum requirements either. In Sasha’s case, though, it was only a matter of a few minor fibs. I was a total lost cause. “Like I said, I’ll lie about your smoking. Your job. Your–“
“Everything,” she interrupted.
“Not everything. You’re gorgeous. In shape, athletic–”
“No. You’d have to lie about practically everything but my name and my dress size. You can’t do that.”
“You’re exaggerating. But for you, I would lie. Yes, I could. And I would.”
“No, you won’t.” Sasha pointed the mouth of the bottle at me. “Because I won’t let you. And I know you’ll be fired if you do any matchmaking outside of work, so forget it. I’m on my own.” She checked her reflection in her compact mirror then stood. “And now I’m going to talk to Mr. Wal-Mart Pants because he has great dimples and a hot tattoo. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.” Smiling, she trounced off, a girl on a mission, target in sight, and all guns locked and loaded.
She returned less than five minutes later, her quarry trailing behind her, Mr. Wal-Mart Pants and a second guy, who was seriously cute, in a rough, slightly mussed kind of way. As they came closer, I noticed the friend’s hair was a riot of blond-tipped waves, the roots a deep brown. Sexy dark stubble shadowed his clefted chin. When he stepped up to our table, a stunning smile spread over his nicely angular face, the brilliant white of his teeth a stark contrast to his deeply tanned skin.
Sasha slid into the booth across from me. “Guys, this is my friend Daryl. Daryl, this is Andy and Tevin.”
Andy plunked himself down beside Sasha, leaving Tevin to sit next to me.
“Hello.” I gave each man one of my I’m-being-friendly-only-because-I-have-to half-smiles and scooted over, putting some space between me and Tevin.
“Tevin Page.” Tevin eyed my glass. “What’re you drinking?”
I didn’t offer Tevin my last name.
“I’m good.” Sasha said, weighing her two bottles with her hands.
“Diet cola,” I said, catching a surprised look from both guys. “I gave alcohol up for Lent.”
“And she’s not even the Catholic girl in the group,” Sasha teased. “I am.”
“Yeah? I heard plenty about Catholic girls.” Andy flung an arm over Sasha’s shoulder and waved for the waitress with his other hand. “Are the rumors true?”
Sasha’s cheeks flushed a pretty pink that matched her clingy knit top perfectly. “All lies. Well, most of them, anyway.”
The waitress came bouncing up, her bright smile highlighted with a brilliant shade of pink lipstick. She sure hadn’t beamed that brightly a little while ago, when she’d taken our order. Andy rattled off the drink order while Sasha fluttered her eyelashes at him.
“Now that we’ve covered religion,” Tevin said, drawing my attention away from my flirting best friend and her latest potential conquest, “what other taboo topic should we talk about? Politics?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not? Democrat. You?”
“Republican,” Tevin answered.
“Really?” I gave him another up and down assessment. He bore none of the trappings of a typical conservative. Quite the opposite, with his shaggy hair, pierced ears, and the tattoos peeking out from under his well-fitting short sleeves, he was looking far from conservative.
“I’m an entrepreneur,” he explained, as if he owed me any explanation at all.
“Ah, got it.” Entrepreneur? Judging from this guy’s looks, I would guess that was a fancy word for unemployed and unemployable. “So, what kind of business are you into?” While I was absolutely certain Tevin was not potential client material, at least small talk was good. Safe.
Lawn care. Yes, I could still spot a man worth a second look in a crowded room, practically with my eyes closed.
Tevin wasn’t one of them.
“Lawn care. That sounds great. Do you have your own company?” I asked, humoring him.
“Yes. I started it a few years ago. Last year, I grossed a fair amount in revenue.”
I’d never heard a lawn guy use that kind of language.
Maybe I’d been a little hasty in judging him? Probably not, but I perked up, shifting into work mode anyway. I was desperate. Desperate times, and all that.
Ring check? Clear.
Tan marks on the ring finger? Nope.
So far, so good.
I glanced at his feet. Shoes said a lot about a man.
“How’s business?” I asked.
“We’re doing pretty well. And I dabble a little in real estate in my free time.”
Now the real estate dabbling sounded promising.
And the Dolce & Gabbana shoes spoke volumes.
Hoping my first impressions had been wrong for once, I asked, “Do you have a card on you, by any chance?” I wasn’t permitted to ask potential clients for financials to prove their net worth, but oftentimes it didn’t take much to get a picture of a man’s financial standing.
“Why? Are you looking for someone to cut your lawn?” Tevin the lawn cutting real estate dabbler who spoke like a U of M graduate asked.
“No, not exactly.”
His smile turned wicked. I really liked that smile. Maybe a little too much. “Ah, then you just want my phone number.”
I nodded. “Maybe, I do.”
That wicked smile turned wry. “Hmmm. In general, I prefer old-fashioned girls. You know, the type who would rather let me pursue them. But in this case–“
“Actually, it’s not for me.” I dug into my purse, looking for my business card case. It always sank to the bottom, and it took my cell phone with it every time.
“Not for you?” He smacked a hand to his chest. “You wound me.”
The guy had a flair for the dramatic, but in a very cute and playful way. Another reason to like him.
I couldn’t help laughing. “Sorry.”
“You sure don’t let a guy down easy.” His grin belied the wounded-guy act.
“It’s a risk of the profession, unfortunately.” I glanced up, catching his gaze for a split second. He had some seriously gorgeous eyes. And those thick lashes…swoon. “I work for a company called Premier Consultants–”
“Ah, the matchmaking service.”
“You’ve heard of us?” At last, my fingertips brushed against flat leather, my card case. I pulled it out, flipped it open, and plucked out a card, setting it on the table.
“Daryl Laroche.” Tevin fingered my card as he read my name. “I know all about Premier. The owner, Marguerite Munro has been trying to drag me to one of those Friday night mixers for over a year.”
Holy crap. I couldn’t believe it. If Marguerite had been chasing this guy, he wasn’t a wanna-be entrepreneur. He was the real thing. “And you haven’t come, not to a single one?”
“Nope.” He looked quite proud of himself.
“Wow, I think you might be the first person I’ve met who has managed to refuse Marguerite anything. What that woman wants, she gets.”
“So I hear.” He lifted my card, but instead of handing it back, like I half-expected him to, he slid it into his wallet. “She hasn’t gotten me yet, but she hasn’t given up.” Catching sight of the waitress, returning with a tray of drinks balanced on one hand, he pointed at my glass. “Are you sure you don’t want something a little stronger?”
“No, thanks. I have to get up early tomorrow.”
“Saturday morning?” He handed the waitress some cash. “I’ll take care of the ladies’ tab, as well as this round. Keep the change.”
“Thank you.” The waitress disappeared into the thickening crowd.
“Thanks, but you don’t have to do that.” I curled my fingers around the chilled glass and lifted the straw to my mouth. My arm brushed against his as I moved, and my face warmed a little.
“My pleasure.” He lifted his glass, waiting for me to do the same. “To…the thrill of closing the big deal.”
“I’ll drink to that.” I tapped my glass against his and downed at least half of my drink. This guy was smart, charming, with a face that would make angels weep and a body that made me tingly all over. He was a ten plus. And—assuming my boss knew something about his financial situation that I didn’t–it was no wonder she had tried to sell him her service. She’d have a stadium full of women lining up to become Mrs. Tevin within days.
I couldn’t mess this up.
Still staring at me with those dark eyes, full of secrets, he set down his drink. “So, what’s the story? Do you get up early on Saturday mornings for kicks or is there another reason?”
I played with my straw. The ice cubes clanked against the glass as I churned it into a mini-whirlpool. “Work. We have an open call for next week’s mixer. Contrary to what you might think, beautiful, intelligent women don’t fall into our laps. We have to search for them. We work hard–”
“You don’t have to give me the sales pitch. I’ve heard it before.” He stood, offered a hand, and beamed a smile that would stop a weaker woman’s heart forever. “Dance with me.”
I hadn’t even realized there was music playing. Nor had I noticed Sasha had given me the slip. “Sure.” I didn’t need it, but I accepted his help as I stood. With Tevin’s hand resting on the small of my back, I wound through the crowd toward the small dance floor in the back.
Stopping at the outside fringe of the crowd of couples swaying to the mellow jazz tune the band was playing, I stepped into Tevin’s arms. Immediately, I realized he knew how to move. His hips rocked from side to side as he held me closely. With two inch heels, I stood maybe five inches shorter than him. I fit nicely against him. Too nicely. The spicy scent of his cologne, combined with the sultry voice of the band’s singer, and the sensation of being held made me wish, for just a moment, that I was on a date, rather than trying to enlist a new enrollee in a dating service.
I tipped my head up and met his eyes, and for the briefest of moments, our gazes locked.
Girl, you’re giving this guy the wrong impression.
I pulled away, not completely, just enough to let him know I was uncomfortable. He tipped his head slightly, his eyes never leaving mine.
I cleared my throat. “What’ll it take to convince you to come to a Friday night mixer?”
“I’ll let you know.” He led me into a fancy little swirl and spin.
“Oh!” A tad dizzy, I tightened my hold and followed his lead, laughing when he dipped me at the end. I half expected, from the look on his face, for him to bend over me and give me a little kiss, maybe more, but to my relief he didn’t. He pulled me upright.
But then, as my body molded to his, our gazes tangled again. A current of electricity zipped through me, and a blaze of heat followed. Time seemed to freeze. His lids were heavy, his eyes dark. The tip of his tongue slid along his lower lip.
I stood frozen in place, overcome by the flurry of sensations pummeling my system. In my head a zillion thoughts were racing.
His head tipped.
Was he going to kiss me?
This man? This gorgeous, successful man?
It lowered a tiny bit. And a little more.
Yes, yes he was!
My heart jerked in my chest. The air squeezed out of my lungs. My fingers curled, catching the smooth fabric of his shirt, wadding it.
I couldn’t let this happen.
Yes, I could.
But ohmygod, I wanted him to.
My head said no.
My body, every single cell but the ones inside my skull, screamed yes.
My eyelids fell shut just as his lips found mine. Oh so softly they brushed over mine. Too softly.
And then they were gone.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. His hold on me loosening slightly, he fell back into a slow combination of hip sways and footsteps as the band started playing another song.
Sorry. He was sorry.
Suddenly mortified, I mumbled, “It…it’s okay.” I followed along, my eyes closed. Despite that awkward moment, dancing with him was like being hypnotized. Enthralled. Seduced. “Someone has taken dance lessons.”
“I took a few ballroom classes.” Probably in an effort to lighten the mood, he did a goofy little move that had me almost laughing.
“Clearly, you had an excellent teacher.” Despite his antics, I could tell that was no lie.
“The best.” He pulled me a tiny bit closer, so our legs were woven between each other’s again and our lower bodies were almost, but not quite, touching. I’d always felt dancing was a very intimate thing, especially with a stranger, but the way Tevin held me, it was almost indecent.
He spun me again, and the world whirled around me in a blur of color and lights and shadows. When I stopped spinning like an out-of-control top, I found myself clinging to him, breathless and laughing and shameless.
“Already, I can see you’re full of surprises.” I stumbled a little. Luckily, my constrictor-like grip on his arm kept me from slamming into the couple next to us.
He hauled me up against him, placing one hand on my back for support. With the other, he brushed my hair out of my face. It was a tender, sweet gesture. “What about you? Are you full of surprises too?”
“Nope.” The spinning sensation finally easing up, I rocked my weight from one foot to the other, following Tevin’s lead again. “I’m boring and dull. Completely predictable.”
“I don’t believe you.”
I shrugged. “Believe what you want. It’s the truth.”
He studied me for a moment. “I think that’s what you want people to believe.”
“Why would I lie?”
“I haven’t figured that out…yet.”
“Yet?” I echoed, unable to hide the smile tugging at my lips.
“Give me a few weeks, and I’ll have all your skeletons doing the cha-cha in broad daylight.”
He might not have meant that as a threat, but it struck me as one. Instantly, I stiffened, missing a beat, and his leg bumped into mine, almost knocking me off balance again. I gave a little squeak, grabbed his arm and then tried to pretend I hadn’t almost tripped by doing a little shuffle and kick.
He stopped dancing, smack dab in the middle of the floor, in the middle of a song. “I’m sorry.”
So much for the fancy maneuver.
Not that I’d expected it to fool him.
Hoping to hide my embarrassment, as well as change the subject, I turned on the charm, giving him a beaming smile. “No biggie. I didn’t fall.”
“I wasn’t apologizing for that.”
This man was entirely too perceptive. And dangerous. “I’m fine. I…I just lost track of the beat for a second. Unlike a certain someone, I haven’t had the benefit of dance lessons.”
“I could teach you,” he offered, his mischievous expression suggesting he wasn’t necessarily talking about dancing.
“I’ll keep that in mind, if I decide to take dance lessons someday.” This time, when the song ended, I stepped out of Tevin’s arms before the band started the next number. The fun was over. I didn’t need Tevin Page, lawn guy and real estate tycoon, thinking I was stupid enough to think he was really interested in dating me. I knew better than that. What I did need from him was simple–I needed him to hire me to help him find the right girl, his perfect match. “Thank you for the dance.” I brushed the back of my hand across my forehead. “Whew, it’s hot in here.” I fanned my face. “I could use a drink.”
“Sure.” He escorted me back to our table, waited for me to sit before he took a seat across from me. He pointed at my glass, which now held about three ounces of watered down, lukewarm cola. “What can I get you?”
“A glass of water with a lemon slice. Thanks.”
He scowled as he waved our waitress over and ordered my drink.
“Look, I’m not trying to be rude. I make a living helping single men find their perfect match. I learned a long time ago never to mix business with pleasure.”
He didn’t respond right away. Instead, he studied me. “I never said I was interested in hiring a matchmaker.”
“You kept my card.”
He lifted his brows. “Why do you think that might be?”
“Because you’ve decided to go to a weekend mixer, of course.”
The corners of his mouth curled up. “No.”
“You’re considering passing it on to someone else? A friend, maybe?”
“No, I’m not passing it on to someone else.”
The waitress zigzagged through the crowd to our table and plunked down a tall glass of water in front of me. Tevin stuffed his hand into his pocket, pulled out a wad of bills and flipped off a few to hand to her. She ran off with a big grin on her face.
“Okay, so you’re not giving it to someone else,” I said, giving him my best sales game face as I stirred my water with the straw, “and you haven’t decided to come to a mixer. I should warn you, if you call me, I’m determined to make you change your mind about Premier.”
He laughed. It was a glorious sound. And what it did to his face, his eyes…wow. Some lucky woman was going to thank me for this one day. He lifted one brow. “Change my mind? How do you plan on doing that?”
“Well…” I drummed my fingertips on the tabletop. “I won’t challenge you to a dance off, that’s for sure.”
There was that laugh again. A low rumble that sent pleasant vibrations thrumming through my body. “Maybe I could make a suggestion?”
“You’re going to tell me what to do to seal the deal?” I plunked both elbows down on the table and, leaning forward, rested my chin on my fists. “I’m all ears.”
“You’re a savvy business woman. I’m a businessman. We both understand that striking a deal requires a little give and take from both parties.”
“Sure.” I wasn’t certain I liked where this seemed to be heading.
“How about I agree to sign a contract with Premier, but on one condition?”
You know the feeling that you get when you know somebody is about to drop a bomb on your head? Or, the feeling that something unpleasant is going to fly up in your face and knock you on your ass, but you can’t avoid it? That’s what I was feeling as I asked, “What condition is that?”
“I’ll sign with Premier if you agree to go on one date with me for every event I attend.”
Yep, there it was. And there I was, in an impossible quandary.
I closed my eyes and shook my head, reminding myself that he didn’t know how much this meant to me. A new contract meant the difference between homelessness and having a roof over my head. I needed this contract.
But dating clients was strictly forbidden.
And why would he want to date me, anyway? I wasn’t an Ivy League graduate, like our girls. I didn’t have perfect hair and teeth and manners. And I was nowhere close to model thin.
Why was he playing this game with me? Why?
Taking away the fact that it was just plain cruel–him acting like he might be seriously interested in me–this was a lose-lose prospect for me, no matter how I looked at it.
“Tevin…?” Throwing away my pride, and casting aside all attempts at appearing as the wheeling, dealing saleswoman I knew I wasn’t, I gave him my best sad-puppy-eyes. At this point groveling wasn’t beneath me. “Please. I know you’re not serious about wanting to date me. So drop it.”
He crossed his arms and shook his head. “That’s my final offer, Daryl. Take it or leave it.”