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Match Me If You Can(6)

By´╝ÜSusan Elizabeth Phil

One thing was certain. She'd never have to pass out emergency condoms to Heath Champion. A man like that always came prepared.

She wrinkled her nose. Time to rise above her dislike. So what if he was overbearing and dictatorial, not to mention too rich and too successful for his own good? He was the key to her economic future. If she wanted Perfect for You to be successful as a specialized, high-end matchmaking service, she had to find him a wife. Once that happened, the word would spread, and Perfect for You would become the hottest service in Chicago. Which it definitely wasn't now, because inheriting her grandmother's business had also meant inheriting her remaining clients. Although Annabelle was doing her best to honor Nana's memory, it was time to move forward.

She squirted soap on her hands and considered her place in the business world. Matchmaking services came in mind-boggling varieties, and the rise of inexpensive online dating services had forced a lot of brick-and-mortar companies like hers to shut down while others scrambled to find a niche. They offered speed dates, lunch dates, and adventure outings. Some staged singles dinner parties, others served only graduates of prestigious universities or members of specific religious denominations. A lucky few, like Power Matches, were holding their own as “millionaire services,” accepting only male clients and charging them staggering fees for introductions to beautiful women.

Annabelle intended to set Perfect for You apart from all of them. She wanted to make her name the first one that upscale Chicago singles, male and female, thought of when they were ready for a committed relationship and realized that old-fashioned personalized service was the best way to get it. She already had a few clients—Ernie and John her most recent— but not nearly enough to turn a profit. And until she'd established her credentials, she couldn't charge higher fees. Finding a match for Heath Champion would make those select clients and bigger fees possible. Except why hadn't he been able to find a wife on his own?

She'd have to speculate on that later because it was time to get to work. She'd intended to spend the afternoon patrolling Loop-area coffeehouses, fertile ground for finding both prospective clients and possible matches for the ones she had, but that was before she'd known how quickly she needed to come up with a candidate who'd knock Heath Champion off his feet.

Heat shimmered from the asphalt as she made her way across the parking lot to her car. The air smelled of fried food and exhaust. Chicago had declared its first Ozone Action Day of the summer, and it was barely June. She tossed the hopelessly wrinkled yellow suit in a trash bin so she never had to look at it again.

As she climbed inside the stifling car, her cell rang. She propped the door open to get some air. “This is Annabelle.”

“Annabelle, I have wonderful news.”

She sighed and dropped her forehead against the hot steering wheel. Just when she'd thought the worst of her day was behind her. “Hi, Mom.”

“Your father talked to Doug an hour ago. Your brother is officially a vice president. They announced it this morning.”

“Ohmygod! That's great!”

Annabelle exuded enthusiasm, bubbled over with bliss, radiated relish, but her mother's ESP kicked in anyway. “Of course it's great,” she snapped. “Honestly, Annabelle, I don't know why you have to be so begrudging. Doug has worked hard to get where he is. No one handed him a thing.”

Except adoring parents, a first-rate college education, and a generous postgraduation cash gift to tide him over.

Exactly the same things Annabelle had been given.

“Only thirty-five,” Kate Granger went on, “and vice president of one of the most important accounting firms in Southern California.”

“He's amazing.” Annabelle lifted her forehead from the burning hot steering wheel before it branded her with the mark of Cain.

“Candace is giving a pool party next weekend to celebrate Doug's promotion. They're expecting Johnny Depp.”

Somehow Annabelle couldn't imagine Johnny Depp showing up at one of her sister-in-law's pool parties, but she wasn't stupid enough to express her skepticism. “Wow! That's impressive.”

“Candace is trying to decide between a South Pacific theme or going with the western thing.”

“She entertains so well, I'm sure whatever she decides will be perfect.”

Kate Granger's psychic abilities were worthy of her own 800 line. “Annabelle, you have to try harder to get over your hostility toward Candace. Nothing is more important than family. Doug adores her. We all do. And she's a wonderful mother.”

Beads of perspiration were forming at her hairline. “How's Jamison's potty training coming along?” Not Jimmy, Jamie, Jim, or any variation thereof. Just Jamison.