I don’t have a cover yet for my next A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN book, just a title: TODAY, TOMORROW, ALWAYS. This is oldest O’Dowd sister CATHLEEN’S story. Widowed, lonely, and bit of a workaholic, Cathy is despairing she will ever find another man to warm her bed at night and one she can love forever. She agrees to attend a speed dating night, organized by her high school friend, Olivia, a local matchmaker. This little scene is after the event:
The lights were still on inside the house when Olivia dropped me back home three hours later.
“I don’t want you to be discouraged, Cathy,” she said as I unbuckled my seatbelt. “This was just your first event.”
And if I had anything to say about it, it was my last.
“Tonight was a mish-mash of personality types and age groups. I’d invited you so you could get a feel for what’s involved in the process. I didn’t expect you to meet or connect with anyone. We need to get together privately so I can figure out the type of man you’re interested in. Then, I can set up something in the future more to your taste level.”
My taste level? Good Lord. If tonight was any indication, there were no men out there who even came close to an appetizer much less a main course.
“Liv, I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I’m busy with the practice, handling Nanny’s affairs.” I swiped my gloved hand in the air. “I’m not sure I have the energy to be involved at the moment.”
She smiled and nodded. “Going out to dinner or a movie with a nice guy doesn’t mean you have to sign a marriage contract, Cath. According to Fiona all you do is work.”
“Well, yeah. Because I’m busy.”
“I get that. But you can take a break every now and again, you know. Just think about it,” she added when I opened my mouth again, ready to protest.
Resigned, I nodded.
“I’ll call you in a few days and we can grab some lunch, okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
The house was lit and warm when I walked through the front door. I’d thought Frayne had left the lights on so I wouldn’t come home to a dark, empty house. The moment I closed the door behind me I realized I was wrong, because the house wasn’t empty at all.
Mac Frayne was seated at my dining room table, a laptop opened in front of him.
“You’re still here.”
Why that blue-eyed and befuddled stare meeting me through those thick lenses was such a turn on is a mystery I don’t think I’ll ever solve, but the moment his dazed gaze zeroed in on me and then cleared, his eyes widening, then narrowing, my legs got a little wobbly and my pulse jumped.
He tugged the glasses off and tossed them onto the table, his gaze never wavering my face.
“And you’re back early,” he said, rising.
I draped my coat over my forearm, kicked off my shoes, and shrugged. “It wasn’t supposed to be a long, drawn-out evening.”
Frayne took a few steps toward me, the lines in his forehead grooving deeper. “How was it?”
“Horrible,” I said, before I could stop myself. I shook my head as I moved towards the hall closet. “That’s unfair,” I added, as I hung up my coat. “It wasn’t horrible, as much as something not for me.”
I turned and barreled into Frayne.
“Jesus.” His hands shot out and braced my upper arms. “You don’t make a sound when you move.”
“A lifetime of apartment living,” he said. Once I was sure footed and guaranteed not to fall into him again, he lowered his hands.
If I’d had any nerve I would have asked him to put them back. Instead, I swallowed, turned, and walked toward the kitchen, as he asked, “Why wasn’t it something for you?”
I ignored the question. “I’m starving. Have you had anything to eat?”
I wasn’t surprised when he followed me.
“Not since lunch at the Inn. Maureen had soup and sandwiches today, which, like everything else she’s served since I’ve been here, were delicious.”
“Mo only knows how to do delicious.” I peeked inside my fridge. “And speaking of,” I pulled out a glass container. “This is fried chicken she gave me this morning. Want some?”
He leaned a hip against the counter and cocked his head.
“You don’t mind sharing?”
“We both have to eat.”
I put the mashed sweet potatoes she’d sent along in a microwave bowl, then set the timer.
“I hope you like your chicken cold because I’m in no mood to wait for the oven to heat.”
That darling little curl popped up in the corner of his mouth.
“Cold is fine.”
“Did you read any more of Josiah’s diaries?” I asked while I pulled plates from the cabinet.
When he didn’t answer I looked over at him. His quizzical head cock was in place again.
“I’m curious why you won’t answer my question.”
I stared at the microwave, taking a moment to formulate my answer.
“The whole concept of dating is alien to me. I knew Danny since the second grade and we got married when we were eighteen. He was the only guy I ever went out with, and it wasn’t even what anyone would consider dating, since we’d been together forever. Having to start all over at this age is”—I lifted one shoulder—“mentally exhausting.”
“Why did you agree to go, then?”
“Because, as my grandmother succinctly put it, it’s time to move on.”
“And you thought hiring a matchmaker was the way to meet someone?”
“I didn’t seek Olivia out. I kind of got railroaded into it.”
I explained how the situation came about while I put the food on the kitchen table. Once seated, I continued.
“Before I knew it, I’d agreed to go to tonight’s”—I waved my hand in the air—“thing.”
“So, again, why wasn’t it for you? I don’t know a lot about speed dating, but from what I’ve read it’s popular among millennials. Along with right-swipe hookups.” The jagged shake of his head told me all I needed to know how he felt about the way people met these days.
“And that’s the problem.” I pointed my sweet potato-laden fork at him. “I’m in the wrong age bracket. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to meet someone and get to know them organically and over time, not try and stuff the story of my life into three minutes before an egg timer beeps. Even though I didn’t participate I was tense and stressed watching the others who were. It all seemed…desperate to me.”
I stopped, mortified I’d admitted it, because in truth, that’s what I’d been feeling watching the group tonight.
From the moment we’d arrived at the restaurant I could tell I’d made a big mistake. The women were all older than me, had hungry, hopeful gleams in their eyes and when they caught sight of me, a few of their stares turned hostile. I was all set to beat a hasty retreat when Olivia’s hand at the small of my back propelled me forward.
Part of the restaurant had been cordoned off, a half dozen tables for two set-up in a semi-circle. Six women, six men, I assumed.
What’s that saying about what happens when you assume something?
A quick glance back at the hostility bowling my way and I realized it wasn’t because of my outfit or my age, but the fact I had the wrong chromosomes.
With me included, there were eight women. I’m better at words than math, but even a five year old knew that left a smaller number of men.
With a gentle prod, Olivia shoved me towards the gaggle of women. For the first time in my life I understood any sympathized with how Daniel must felt walking into the lion’s den.
“Ladies,” I said, with head bob and a tremulous smile.
Silence came back at me. I could stare down the most antagonistic of witnesses in a courtroom without even a thought, but for some reason all my courage flew south as these women glared at me through overly made-up, amateurly applied smoky eyes.
I swallowed the golf ball of fear in my throat.
“How’s everyone doing tonight?” I asked.
Lame, I know, but I was truly out of my element.
“You’re new,” a voice said. “Haven’t seen you before.”
“Y-yes. I’m a…friend…of Olivia’s.” If they thought I posed no dating threat, I figured they wouldn’t disembowel me.
“You joining in tonight, then?”
“Just an observer,” I assured her.
“Hey, aren’t you Fintan O’Dowd’s oldest?” One of them asked. Well, accused would be more the appropriate word choice.
Another quirk of living in a small community, especially with a well-known parent: everyone knows who you are and who you’re related to whether you know them or not. Since I didn’t recognize the woman asking, I nodded.
“Thought you was married.” Yup, accused was the correct word.
“I was. I’m a widow. My husband died…was killed. In Afghanistan.”
Immediately, their collective animosity flew right out the restaurant’s front door. They approached me in a cluster, cooing, and clicking their tongues in sad support of my plight.
If I’d known that was all it took to get them to put their invisible pitchforks and blunderbusses away I’d have led with it.
And yes, I know that’s dramatic, but their facial expressions up until then were fifty shades of scary.
A few moments later Olivia clapped her hands and called us to order.
I stood with her off at the side while she read the rules and held a stopwatch. A small bell sat on the table in front of her. At the first ding, the room went into motion.
The seven women all took their seats while the five men inspected them like hunters evaluating prey, and then made their way to the tables of their choice. I felt bad for the two women who sat solo.
“Don’t worry about them,” Olivia said, when I voiced my concern. “Everyone will have a chance to meet. You want to sit down at one of the tables and give this a go?”
Having a root canal without anesthesia while simultaneously getting my fingernails removed had more appeal. I declined, nicely, and said I just wanted to watch.
Intrigued? I’ll be posting soon on the cover and the release date, so stay tuned.
Until next time ~ Peg