Today it is my pleasure to host NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump!
Shirley welcome to HJ! Shirley has a special post for us today…
THE MATCHMAKER’S HAPPY ENDING
This book came about when my editor asked me about doing a mother-daughter focused book. I came up with Marnie, a matchmaker by trade, who fixes her mother up—only to have mother turn the tables on her and try to fix her up with her arch enemy, Jack Knight. Marnie’s a matchmaker who has given up on happy endings, and Jack’s a workaholic who has no room in his life for anything other than making up for the mistakes of the past. But when these two connect over some daisies and an outdoor concert, Marnie begins to wonder if maybe happily-ever-after is possible.
Jack turned onto Marnie’s street. A flicker of disappointment ran through her as the ride came to an end. “It’s the fourth one on the right,” she said. “With the flowers out front.”
Invite him in? Or call it a night?
He slowed the car, then stopped at her building’s entrance. “Nice looking place. I love these brick buildings from the early 1900s. It’s always nice to see the architecture get preserved when the building gets repurposed. Not every owner appreciates history like that.”
“Me too. Coming home is like stepping into history.” She smiled, then put out her hand. Impersonal, business-like. “Well, thank you for the ride.”
That zing ran through her again when his large hand enfolded hers. For a second, she had the crazy thought of yanking on his hand, pulling him across the car, and kissing him. His broad chest against hers, his lips dancing around her mouth, his hands—
Holy cow. She needed to sleep more or get extra potassium or something.
“It was the least I could do after you stayed,” Jack was saying. He released her hand. Darn. “Especially after you had a long day yourself.”
Focus on the words he’s speaking, not the fantasy. She jerked her gaze away from his mouth. “It was no trouble.”
He grinned. “You said that already.”
“Oh, well, I’m just really…tired.”
“Yeah, me too. I had a long day, made longer by someone who dropped the ball on some important paperwork. I got everything back on track, but…what a day.” He ran a hand through his hair, displacing the dark locks. “Anyway, I’m sorry again about losing my temper back there.”
“I would have done the same thing if my trunk looked like an origami project,” she said.
He glanced in the rearview mirror and shrugged off the damaged rear. “It gives my insurance agent something to do.”
She laughed. “True. Anyway, thanks again. Have a good night.”
“You too.” He reached for her before she got out of the car, a light, quick touch on her arm. But still enough to send heat searing along her skin. “Would you like to go get a cup of coffee or a drink? We could sit around and complain about our jobs, our meddling parents, bad cab drivers and whatever else we can think of?”
A part of her wanted to say yes, but the realistic part piped up, reminding her of the time and her To Do list, and her no-men-for-the-foreseeable-future resolve. Besides, there was something about that zing, something that told her if she caved, she’d be lost, swept in a tsunami. The mere thought terrified her. “I can’t. It’s late. And I have an early day tomorrow.”
She raised one shoulder, let it drop. “My job is a 24/7 kind of thing.”
He chuckled. “Mine too. And even though every year I vow to work less and play more…”
“Me too.” Because work was easier than confronting the reasons why she worked too much. Because work was easier than taking a chance on love. Work she could control, depend upon. Love, not so much. But she didn’t say any of that. She released the door handle, and shifted to face him.
Despite the fear, she didn’t want to leave. Right now, with Jack looking at her like that, his eyes lit by the street light above and his strong jaw cast in a dark shadow, her resistance was at an all-time low. Desire pulsed in her veins. She wished she had dragged him across the car and kissed him silly when she’d had the chance. So she delayed leaving a bit longer.
“What do you do for work that keeps you busy late into the day and also on weekends?” She put a finger to her lip and gave him a flirty smile. “Let me guess. Lawyer?”
“Hell, no.” He glanced down. “Oh, I get it. Pinstripe suit, power tie. Screams waiting to sue to you?”
“Well, if the Brooks Brothers fits…”
His smile widened, ending with a dimple. Oh, God. Dimples. She’d always been a sucker for them.
“I’m…an investor,” Jack said. “Of sorts.”
“I buy and sell businesses. I find ones that need a cash infusion, and if I think they’re viable, I invest. If I think they’re not, I buy them and either sell them again or break up the pieces and sell it off.”
A shiver ran down her back. The leather seemed to chafe now, not comfort. “You’re…a corporate raider?”
“I’m a little nicer than that. And I tend to work with small to medium-sized businesses, not giant Goliaths.”
The connection fused in her mind. His job. His name.
Jack Knight. Owner of Knight Enterprises. A “business investor”—a euphemism for his true identity. Jack Knight was a vulture. Feeding off the carcasses of desperate business owners.
It had to have been the exhaustion of the day that had kept her from putting the pieces together until now. How could she have misread all the clues?
And to think she’d wanted to kiss him five minutes ago. She bristled. “The size doesn’t matter to the company that gets sold off, or taken over, or destroyed in the process of that kind of ‘help’.”
“I must have given you the wrong impression. There’s more to it—”
“No, there really isn’t. You destroy people’s companies, and their lives.” The words sprang to life in her throat, fueled by exhaustion, shock, and surprised even Marnie with their vehemence. She never did this, never showed outrage, never yelled. Jack Knight had brought out this other side of her, with a roar. “Do you even think about what happens to those people after you swoop in and tear their company to shreds? They spent their lives building those companies, and in an instant, you take it all away. And for what? A bottom line? A few more dollars in your pocket? Another Mercedes for the collection?” She let out a gust, then grabbed the door handle. It stuck, then yielded, and fresh night air washed over her. She’d gotten distracted, by a dimple and a zing. Idiot. “Goodnight.”
“Wait. What did—”
She shut the door, cutting off his words. She’d confronted him, told him off, and told herself it felt good to finally say what she should say, exactly when she was supposed to say it. Jack idled in the space for a moment, then finally, the Mercedes drove away, swallowed by the night.
Disappointment hit her first. If only she’d kissed him. If only she’d let herself get talked into that cup of coffee.
If only he’d been someone other than Jack Knight.
Then righteous indignation rose in her chest. He was the one at fault, not her. He was the one who had ruined her father’s company, not her. If she’d told him what she really wanted to say to him, if she’d really let the confrontation loose, she’d have resorted to some very unladylike behavior, and she refused to give him that satisfaction. Jack Knight didn’t deserve it, not after what he had done to her father.
So she had said goodnight, got out of Cinderella’s carriage, and went back to the real world, where princes didn’t come along very often, and there were no mice to do the work for her.