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Strike a Match

By Fiona Riley

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Fiona Riley

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. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Strike a Match

Every date that firefighter Sasha McCray has had in the last year has been orchestrated by matchmaker Samantha Monteiro through Perfect Match, Inc., and she still has nothing to show for it. After a series of near matches, Sasha has all but given up on finding that special spark with someone else.

Accountant by day and reluctant millionairess by night, Abby Rossmore wants nothing more than to be the normal girl she reads about in all those romance novels. But the truth is, once people find out about her family, their interest in her flares for all the wrong reasons.

When Samantha tries to help Abby and Sasha discover they have more in common than being unlucky in love, they have to decide if their shared passion will blaze on or burn out. Could they be each other’s perfect match? Or did the notorious Miss Match strike out?

What Reviewers Say About Fiona Riley’s Work

Miss Match


“In this sweet, sensual debut, Riley brings together likable characters, setting them against a colorful supporting cast and exploring their relationship through charming interactions and red-hot erotic scenes. …Rich in characterization and emotional appeal, this one is sure to please.”—Publishers Weekly


Miss Match by Fiona Riley is an adorable romance with a lot of amazing chemistry, steamy sex scenes, and fun dialogue. I can’t believe it’s the author’s first book, even though she assured me on Twitter that it is.”—The Lesbian Review


“This was a beautiful love story, chock full of love and emotion and I felt I had a big grin on my face the whole time I was reading it. I adored both main characters as they were strong, independent women with good hearts and were just waiting for the right person to come along and make them whole. I felt I smiled for days after reading this wonderful book.”—Inked Rainbow Reads

Strike a Match

© 2017 By Fiona Riley. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13:978-1-63555-000-9


This Electronic Original is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: November 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Ruth Sternglantz

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Jeanine Henning

By the Author

Miss Match

Unlikely Match

Strike a Match

Acknowledgments

It takes a village to write a book. There. I said it.

For this book, my village consisted of my ever-patient wife, my super amazing editor Ruth, team Bold Strokes Books, the world’s coolest female firefighter, and a glassblowing studio. Mix them all together and Strike a Match was born.

Without the help of Sherri Mullin and her firefighting expertise, Sasha McCray would never have come to life the way she did during the making of this novel. Sherri, your input was invaluable and I appreciate how personal and honest your answers were to my endless questions. Thanks for taking the time (and it was a LOT of time) to reply to my emails. I am especially grateful you explained the equipment and purpose of all the hose thingies and mask do-hickeys to me. I promise to never leave a candle unattended. Ever.

Ruth Sternglantz, I am running out of nice things to say about you in my Acknowledgments section. Just kidding, that’s impossible. You’re fantastic. And funny. And wise. And just the right amount of teacher-y to not be too preacher-y. I know those aren’t real words—I don’t care: You’re the best.

To the unknowing people at Luke Adam’s Glass Studio, thanks for letting me make all kinds of cool glass art in the name of research and for not being mad when I wanted to know the exact temperature of all the things.

Team BSB: Thanks for all of your support. You really fanned the flames and encouraged my creativity to ignite (I literally could not help myself there #sorrynotsorry).

To my wife—I know that you make sacrifices every day to support my, at times, insane writing lifestyle. And I’m sure you’ve used up all your patience over my looming deadlines, but know that I appreciate you and am in awe of everything that you do. Thank you for reminding me that the cat box isn’t going to change itself, deadline or not. You’re my rock.

Dedication

For Jenn.


Every love story I write is a reflection of how deeply and passionately I feel loved by you and in love with you, every day of my life. All the moments we share are my favorite moments. Thank you for your support and for bringing my newest *Love* into this crazy life of ours. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Chapter One

Sasha McCray watched in disbelief as the entire case of champagne flutes took to the air before crashing to the ground, sending shards of glass in every direction. Never once in all of her years supplementing her firefighting job as a catering waitress had she ever seen glassware defy gravity in such a way. Granted, that clumsy brute Aaron Burger was juggling the dishwashing tray like it was a hot potato, but still, the height he got when he tripped was kind of amazing. Kind of. Except now there was a monstrous mess and the wedding reception was about to start. They had thirty minutes to clean up the glass and get the tables set…assuming they even had extra flutes.

“Burger.” Casey Matthews rubbed his forehead and sighed. “You are officially relegated to the coat room. Go find Stefan and get out of my sight.”

“The coat room? That sounds so boring.” Burger brushed off his knees as he stood from the floor and frowned.

“Really? Because to me it sounds like a safe, enclosed space where you can’t break anything. Not that I’m suggesting that you try.” Casey warned, “Just go and don’t screw anything up.”

Burger mumbled something under his breath and Sasha shook her head. He was sweet enough, but tonight was not the night for him to make any more mistakes; Boston’s notorious Miss Match was getting married, and it was the job of a lifetime for Casey’s catering company.

“He’s going to give me an ulcer.” Casey pressed his hand to his stomach and dropped his head. “I swear to God, if his brother hadn’t saved my ass last month in that fire on Hereford, I never would have hired him to fill in tonight. I’d rather be a man short than try to contain that bull in a china shop.”

Sasha walked over to her lieutenant and patted him on the shoulder. “You’re doing a good thing. He’s new to Engine 28 and he needs to find his own way in the company. You letting him sub in tonight was important to him—it made him feel like one of the guys, you know? I’ll keep an eye on him, I promise.”

“Sasha, you’re good at this. If you ever decide you want to change jobs, I think you’d do well here.” Casey gave her a genuine smile. She tried to accept it as a compliment, but she knew her mother had been in his ear again. “I mean it. I could use someone to run the day-to-day operations. This business is doing well—it’s gonna be my future. You should think about it some more.”

“I’ll do that.” Casey was her lieutenant and her friend, and she knew that he meant well, but she wasn’t in the mood to talk about giving up her firefighting career, not today or ever.

“Well, anyway, I have to get a rush on flutes from the warehouse before the first toast now that we’re definitely two dozen short. You’re going to man the main floor bars tonight—there are five in total. You’re bar supervisor and head floor staff. That cool?” Casey picked up his clipboard and pen and started checking things off.

“Bar service? Yes, sir. I’m down.” Sasha fist pumped—it was common knowledge that the bar manager had the best job of the evening. It was fast paced and would make the time fly by, but more than that, it would give her the chance to interact with the wedding guests and see the festivities. She had been looking forward to this night ever since Samantha Monteiro had chosen Casey and his wife Elise’s catering company to service her wedding, something that Sasha’s involvement with Samantha’s matchmaking company had helped to make happen.

Casey gave her a nod and headed back toward the kitchen, dialing his phone as he went. She was glad to have him in her life. He was patient and kind and was an excellent firefighter, and he’d been a great mentor to her over the years. He also had been an absolute saint when Sasha had asked to join his side business to help pay off some of her father’s medical debts. Casey didn’t even hesitate before he’d agreed; he’d started booking her regularly on her off days from the firehouse, and now she was one of his senior employees.

She looked across the gorgeous dance floor at the maze of tables and sparkling white linens. This was a proud moment for Casey and Elise, and she was happy to do her part. Their company had started out small, doing fundraisers at the firehouse and birthday parties for some of the fire crew; they started with kids’ parties and graduations, and then they moved on to weddings and larger events. Elise was the talent behind the operation: she had gone to culinary school and worked at not one but two Michelin starred restaurants before she was thirty. Sasha smiled as she thought about how cute the two of them were together. He might be high ranking at the firehouse, but Elise was definitely in charge at these events.

It had always impressed Sasha how well Casey and Elise got along, even in the toughest of situations. They were high school sweethearts, but fast-forward nineteen years, and now they were catering and staffing the wedding of one of Boston’s bold-faced names, Samantha Monteiro, and her soon to be wife, Lucinda Moss.

Sasha grabbed a dustpan and broom and started tackling the mess. Casey had thanked her for the referral nearly a dozen times in private, but putting her in charge of the bar service was the icing on the cake. She swept the shattered stems and larger pieces into one area as Jonah, one of Casey’s junior staff, came by with a trash bin.

“Make sure you double line this bag when we clean this up. The last thing we need is someone bleeding on their uniform. Elise will freak.” Sasha emptied the dustpan and handed it to Jonah. “I’m going to do a quick count on glasses at the main bar—let me know if you need anything.” She started walking away before turning back to add, “You’d better run a mop and a vacuum over this area. Grab someone to help you.”

“Sure thing, boss.” Jonah gave her a salute and a wink. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from rolling her eyes. Jonah was probably nineteen years old, twenty at most, but that didn’t dissuade him from flirting with her whenever they shared an event. Someone ought to tell him she was into women in addition to being way out of his league.

She jogged over to the large main bar and dug out the clipboard that Casey left under the oak bar top. The front page had a map of the reception area, each bar location marked with a drawing paired with the designated bartender’s name, and also designating the area set for dish and glass removal by the kitchen staff. A quick glance told Sasha that Casey had put his most seasoned bartenders at the areas with the highest foot traffic. This would be helpful once the guests starting trickling into the reception. The brides would be taking photos for a while, so the appetizers and cocktails would be the main event for a bit.

“Hey, I heard you’re the person I should be thanking for tonight’s gig.” Shaun ran a cloth over the bar’s surface, spraying the organic lemon scented cleaner in between swipes.

“I’m not the one getting married.” Sasha shrugged. “Plus, I think you put too much sour mix in the margaritas, so I definitely would have asked for Carmen at the main bar.”

“You and I both know that I don’t use sour mix in anything. Fresh is best, all the way.” Shaun laughed. “And you’d ask for Carmen because she has better cleavage than me, not because she mixes a better drink.”

“Well she certainly looks better when she shakes the drinks, I’ll give you that.” Sasha poked Shaun’s rotund belly with her finger before he slapped it away.

“Years of taste-testing Elise’s food are catching up to me.” Shaun grabbed a fresh glass and poured a dark purple liquid into it, turning toward Sasha and holding it out to her.

“What’s this?” Sasha took the glass and sipped it. Shaun had been with the company the longest and he was the best bartender she had ever worked with; his ingenuity with cocktail creations was unmatched. She swirled the slightly sweet liquid around her mouth before swallowing it. It was delicious. Dangerously delicious.

“Tonight’s signature cocktail. I’m calling it Swept Away by Romance. All local ingredients, a touch of brightly colored liquor, and voilà, signature cocktail to the stars. Well, to the best dressed of Boston anyway.” Shaun poured himself a sip and finished it off. “A cocktail worthy of the gorgeous couple, themed to match the event space.”

Sasha smiled. “You know, I’ve never been to the New England Aquarium at night—it’s so pretty here.”

Shaun stood to his full six-foot-five-inch frame and looked beyond her at the reception area. “They did a really great job decorating the space. This wedding planner is amazing. Hopefully Elise cooks up a storm and we get to work with him again—a guy could get used to this kind of venue.”

“I know what you mean.” Sasha considered how she got here and almost couldn’t believe it. She had gotten involved with Samantha Monteiro’s matchmaking company, Perfect Match, Inc., on a dare from some of her firehouse colleagues. There was an ad for eligible bachelorettes in the Boston Globe, specifically looking for those that identified as lesbian or bisexual, to meet some of Boston’s most eligible lesbians. Although she didn’t doubt that the guys had heartily encouraged it for their own perverse reasons, curiosity actually had her walking through the door. It was over a year ago since she had first met Samantha Monteiro.

Samantha had been talking to her admin when Sasha got off the elevator. She was early, more out of nervousness than anything else. Samantha had stopped midsentence and regarded her with a broad smile.

“You must be Sasha.” Her voice was like warm honey, matching the rest of her beautiful form. Sasha had to swallow twice to keep herself from drooling. She figured in that moment if Samantha’s clients were half as attractive as she was, she was winning. So hard.

“That’s me.” Sasha had hated herself the moment she opened her mouth, feeling like someone spilled lame-sauce in aisle five.

After a brief exchange, Samantha guided her into her plush, gorgeous office and opened her file. Sasha had been impressed, and also a little freaked out, by the thoroughness of Samantha’s preparation for their meeting. She had been searched and re-searched online, her DMV record and professional license obtained, the headshot she’d submitted matched to her license photo, and a copy of her passport sat on top of the neatly arranged file like a prize. Samantha assured her that this was a routine data collection for all of their clients and their prospective dates—Perfect Match wasn’t just looking for single ladies, but she and her business partner Andrew Stanley were looking for single women to be paired with some of Boston’s best, brightest, and most successful professional women looking for partners in life and love. It had sounded so romantic that she’d nearly zoned out. She couldn’t decide if it was Samantha’s soothing voice that was having a lulling effect, or that watching Samantha’s full pink-glossed lips move was hypnotizing. Either way, her first impression of Samantha Monteiro had been very, very good.

Which was why, a year later, she still had confidence in Samantha’s skillset. Sasha had had multiple near matches through Perfect Match. And she had to admit, the matches they had made for her had felt more significant and legitimate than any she had made for herself in the darkened back corner of a dusty bar with a nameless girl. She had felt a genuine connection with both of her matches, most recently, entrepreneurial millionaire tech wiz Shelly White. She’d been disappointed when neither match progressed beyond a few dates. But she knew they were on to something, because for the first time in her life, Sasha had felt a connection with someone that was more than physical. It was as if a stable, loving relationship like her parents had was actually an option for her. She had mentioned that to Samantha on that first day: she wanted to find a love like her parents found, and Samantha had assured her that with time, she would do just that.

So when Samantha announced she was getting married, Sasha had readily suggested her colleague’s catering and waitstaff service. She wanted to be there for Samantha’s big day.

“Sasha?” Shaun was smirking. “Where the hell did you just go? I asked you like six questions, one of which was sexual in nature, and you just nodded and hummed.”

“Oh, my bad. Trip down memory lane—must have taken the scenic route.” Sasha shook her head and checked the clipboard again. “What did you ask?”

“A multitude of things, but mainly I asked for more fruit from the kitchen.” Shaun pointed toward the oranges, lemons, and limes cut into small starfish shapes on the dish in front of him. “Those float in the signature drink. Imma need about four dozen more.”

“On it.” Sasha took a quick picture of them and turned toward the kitchen.

“Hey, Sasha?” Shaun called over her shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“Tonight is going to go off without a hitch. I can feel it.”

Sasha took a deep breath and walked back toward Jonah to make sure everything sharp was safely stowed away. “I sure hope so.”

Chapter Two

Abby Rossmore sighed and checked her phone for the fourth time. They were going to be late if her mother didn’t hurry up.

“Mom, at this rate we may as well just mail a gift.”

“Abigail, please. It’s appropriate to be fashionably late to things,” Edie Davenport called from her makeup table across the room of her enormous bedroom suite while Abby lounged on the chaise in the corner.

“Abby,” she corrected. Abigail was reserved for her strict but dearly departed maternal grandmother. Well her, and when she was in trouble. This was not one of those times. At least, she didn’t think so anyway.

Edie made a noise that sounded vaguely like judgment. “Abigail is a beautiful name. I don’t understand why you don’t use it.”

“The same reason I don’t use Davenport,” Abby said under her breath, deciding not to argue.

“I heard that.” Edie turned in her seat and crossed her legs, her elegant gown moving like silk along her seemingly ageless, fit frame—something Abby hoped to emulate someday. “I don’t understand why you do that either. There is nothing wrong with being a Davenport, Abigail. Excuse me, Abby.”

Abby sat up and gave her mother a look.

Edie stood and smoothed out her dress as she reached for her clutch. “You know, most people would kill to have that association, darling. You’ve spent your whole life running from it. It seems foolish to me.”

Abby sighed. This wasn’t a fight worth having, again. Tonight, or any night. She knew where her mother stood. She just so happened to stand somewhere else, mostly on solid ground, with her head firmly planted on her shoulders. Something her mother seemed unable to fathom. “Don’t you think Mimi would appreciate all the good I do with Rossmore? I think I make Rossmore look good.”

Edie laughed that carefree, jovial laugh that Abby adored so much. She loved her mother. They didn’t always agree, but Edie was Abby’s best friend. They only had each other in this world, after all. She glided across the room and pulled Abby off the chaise, air-kissing her cheek so as not to smudge her lipstick. She cupped Abby’s jaw affectionately as she replied, “Yes, bunny. Your grandmother would approve. I’m sure she’s in heaven right now beating Mother Teresa’s holy heinie at bridge and bragging about her beautiful, smart granddaughter.”

“You think she’s cheating?” Abby rested her head against her mother’s shoulder and thought fondly of her grandmother.

“Without a doubt. I bet she recruited St. Peter to help. That woman had no morals.” Edie caressed Abby’s hair, careful not to brush any strands out of place.

“See? This is exactly why I repurposed her last name—in an effort to earn her some brownie points doing accounting for the nonprofit. Think of all the people that are benefiting from her bad decisions and questionable legacy.”

Edie bopped Abby on the nose and shook her head. “It never ceases to amaze me that my gorgeous, blond daughter never adopted my love of tennis or handsome, dapper men.”

“There’s nothing wrong with loving numbers, or women, Mom,” Abby replied with a laugh. “And if I recall correctly, last time we played, I beat you in singles tennis. I just prefer math to fuzzy yellow balls.”

“Or any balls for that matter,” Edie deadpanned.

“Edith Augustus Davenport.” Abby feigned outrage. “Did you just make a crude joke?”

“It appears I did. Must be time to depart. Mimi must be channeling something in me.” Edie winked and tugged Abby toward the bedroom door. “Come now, Abby, you’re making us late.”

* * *

“My, my. Samantha sure knows how to throw a party, doesn’t she?” It wasn’t often that Abby heard awe in her mother’s voice.

Abby could see why her mother sounded so impressed. The reception space was stunning: the tables were lined with glistening fine china and ornate silverware with influences of coral carved into the delicate handles. The centerpieces were flower arrangements overflowing with gorgeous blues and purples, floating in water-filled glass bowls with sparkling crystal rocks at the bottom, reflecting light back onto the seated guests giving the illusion that they were lit from within. The ceiling was glittered in lights and paper-lantern-like globes, mimicking the appearance of the starry night sky above the water, as a faint but ever-present light show cascaded along the dance floor, the calming blues and turquoise shades so subtle you would miss it if you weren’t watching closely. Samantha Monteiro had clearly spared no expense at making this night an evening to remember.

“Oh, look. Giovanni is here. Let’s say hello before we sit.” Edie looped her arm into Abby’s elbow and guided her toward the handsomely dressed wedding planner by the entrance of the event space before she had a chance to protest.

“Miss Davenport”—Giovanni smiled broadly and bowed his head—“it’s a pleasure to see you this evening.” He took Edie’s hand and kissed her knuckles.

Edie nodded politely and motioned for Abby to grab two champagne flutes from a passing waiter. “Giovanni, the place looks amazing.”

Grazie, Signora Edie, grazie.” Giovanni puffed out his chest, his mustache twitching. Abby tried not to puke.

Her mother gave a fake, flirtatious laugh, so Abby grabbed three flutes instead, figuring she might need a double.

“Excellent idea, Abigail.” Her mother took the extra glass and handed it to Giovanni for a toast. “Another successful event, from the wedding planner of the century.”

Abby watched in dismay as Giovanni emptied the contents of her emergency elixir, sighing as she sipped her champagne politely until this exchange was over.

Just when she thought she might be in the clear, he turned his attention to her. “Abigail, it’s so nice to see you out of those glasses. You have such beautiful eyes. Did you bring a date tonight?” He looked over her shoulder in search of a phantom.

“I’m my mother’s date tonight, Gio.” Abby’s mother’s foundation frequently used Giovanni’s services to coordinate events. She’d known him for years, and knew how much he disliked the nickname, but she wasn’t exactly in love with his glasses comment so she thought it was a fair trade-off.

Giovanni pursed his lips in a controlled smile. “Ah, well, she’s a lucky woman, your mother. Enjoy your night, ladies.” He dipped his head and excused himself without another word.

“That was a little rude.” Edie gave her an admonishing glance.

“I could say the same thing about his comments regarding my life choice to see.” Abby shrugged and finished her champagne.

Edie rolled her eyes and laughed. “You’re impossible.”

“Impossibly yours.” Abby handed her glass off to a young waiter wearing a formal vest.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Edie adjusted the diamond choker around her neck as the singer of the seven-piece band called the audience’s attention to the main doors, signaling the brides’ arrival. “See, darling? We’re right on time.”

Abby guided her mother to the side as the newly married Samantha Monteiro and Lucinda Moss entered the room to thunderous applause. Samantha’s designer gown accentuated her bosom with a heart-shaped neckline and a mermaid waist, her train clipped to her bodice, the flowing decorative veil sitting delicately along the back of her immaculately styled raven hair—she was a vision in white. Lucinda clasped Samantha’s right hand, her eyes on her bride as they walked through the doors—the adoration loud and clear. Her own gown was breathtaking, different, understated compared to Samantha’s, but with lace and beaded details that from Abby’s perspective gave the appearance of a vintage modern reinterpretation of Old Hollywood style. It was very much in character with the Lucinda she had gotten to know over the last few months through her association with Samantha, as a client at Perfect Match.

As they glided past, moving farther into the event space, Abby couldn’t help but feel a little envious of their love. She had never seen a more perfectly paired couple in all of her life, including her mother and late father, whose devotion to each other was abundantly obvious in family photos and home movies. No, something about Samantha and Lucinda was positively magical. Their true love match was one of the reasons Abby hadn’t given up on her quest to find love through Samantha and Andrew’s matchmaking service. But if she was being completely honest with herself, she was losing hope.

“They are a stunning couple, aren’t they?” Edie’s eyes were tear filled as she clasped her hand over Abby’s resting on her arm. “Such a magnificent pair. Imagine the beautiful children they would have together.”

Abby looked at her mother, surprised. “I suppose, yes.”

“You suppose?” Edie raised her eyebrow as she surveyed Abby. “Abigail, if you brought home either one of those gorgeous creatures, I would do cartwheels. Imagine what the girls at the country club would say.” She mused, her lips pressed together in a playful grin, “Let’s ask Samantha if she has a sister. I’ve always pictured you with a tall brunette.”

Abby could feel her mouth open, but no matter how much she willed it to close, it wouldn’t budge. This was new information—her mother had always accepted her relationships with women, but she’d never weighed in on them. “You pictured me with a…brunette?”

“What? Is that a bad thing?” Edie looked alarmed. “Tall, dark, and handsome can apply to a woman, Abigail. Don’t be so closed-minded.” She pressed two manicured fingers to Abby’s chin and closed her mouth. “You won’t bring home any beauties with your mouth open, dear.”

“I need a drink.” Abby blinked, cataloging her mother’s statements for later. “We’re going to discuss this further.”

Edie clapped with excitement. “Oh, goodie. I wanted to talk to you about Rachel Rabin’s daughter, Dianna—she’s a lawyer at Brown Brothers Harriman. She played varsity tennis at Yale. I think we should schedule a doubles match for next weekend. She speaks French, Abby. Fluently.”

Abby felt her eyes bulge as her mother swooned, her hand over her heart in dramatic fashion that was…Just. So. Edie. She looked around frantically for the nearest escape route—she would not be set up by her mother and her mother’s frenemy Rachel Rabin, not now, not ever. She didn’t bother telling her mother that she and Dianna had already tested the waters a few times but decided they weren’t right for each other. That was something she would take to the grave. “Uh, we can talk about it.”

Edie’s joyous expression faded. “I know that tone. That means you are taking it off the table. That’s the end of joy as we know it.”

“That’s a little dramatic, Mom.” Abby tried to keep a straight face but her mother was all kinds of adorable right now.

“I’m just saying, let’s see what Samantha has to say after this wedding is behind her. If she doesn’t have a match for you, then let me see what I can do.” Edie seemed encouraged, which made Abby nervous.

“If Miss Match herself can’t find me a girlfriend, then I’m cashing in my inheritance and moving to an island with feral cats where no one can hear my sobs of loneliness. It’s decided.” Abby crossed her arms and sighed.

“Now who’s being dramatic?” Edie nudged her in the side. “Let’s see who’s at our table. We can talk about your woeful existence over salad.”

“Great.” Abby let her mother guide her toward their designated table and tried not to pout as she saw her near match, Shelly White, and her girlfriend step onto the dance floor. Another missed opportunity, another perfect match for someone else.

Chapter Three

Sasha speed-walked toward Shaun’s bar and dropped off another plate of fruit stars. The rate at which the guests were consuming the signature cocktail was almost alarming. Well, considering the degree to which they were also draining the champagne reserve, it was alarming. She hadn’t had a chance to check on the wine inventory yet, but she was willing to bet it was taking a serious hit.

“Queen of the Fruit! Thanks.” Shaun grabbed a few stars and dropped them into the three glasses waiting on the bar top.

“Funny.” Sasha snagged a cocktail shrimp off Jonah’s serving tray as he walked by. Shaun gave her a look. “What?”

“You’re supposed to eat out back where no one can see you—you know that.” He sipped a glass of water and wiped his brow. The cocktail hour had been as busy as they expected and it didn’t look like it would slow down much. That happened when there was an open bar the entire wedding—lots of foot traffic and lots of snacks to keep the wolverines at bay.

“I promise you no one will notice a missing shrimp. But yeah, I hear ya. It’s been insane and it’s only the cocktail hour.” Sasha leaned against the bar and looked out at the reception hall. They were still walking appetizers around for another fifteen minutes. Soon the first course would come out and most of the crowd would take a seat for a longer period of time, which was good because two of the less experienced servers had already collided with guests and dumped the contents of their trays.

“It sure has. Everyone is pretty nice though, so that’s good.” Shaun smiled and took the order of two attractive gay men at the bar. Sasha recognized Andrew Stanley right away.

“Hey, Andrew.”

“Sasha—oh, that’s right, I forgot you were our catering connection. You look great in a tuxedo. Well, you look great in just about anything, I bet. How are you?” Andrew had a perma-smile on his face, Sasha figured it was because his best friend and business partner was finally tying the knot. His smile was infectious.

“I’m good. You know, staying out of trouble.” Sasha reached past him and extended her hand to his date. “I’m Sasha.”

“Ben. It’s nice to meet you.” Ben was about an inch shorter than Andrew. He was clean shaven and wore a tux complementing Andrew’s best man attire. They were a handsome couple.

Andrew took the drink Shaun handed him and turned his attention back to Sasha. “Don’t stay out of too much trouble—it’s a party after all. And Samantha’s paying, so bottoms up.” He raised his glass in a mock toast and took a sip.

“Will do.” Sasha squeezed his elbow and waved as he and Ben retreated into the crowd.

“He seems nice.” Shaun held a martini glass up to the light, appearing to inspect it.

“He is. Funny as fuck, too.” She looked to her right just in time to see Jonah nearly knocked off his feet by a guest abruptly sliding out their chair. “Shit. I’ll be right back.”

She ran to Jonah’s side, catching the tray of cocktail shrimp before it tipped too far to the right, and grabbed his elbow with her left hand, to help him retain his balance.

“Jesus Christ. That lady came out of nowhere.” Jonah looked a little frazzled. He adjusted his suit jacket and cracked his neck before reaching to take the tray back from Sasha.

“Lower your voice, Jonah,” Sasha said behind a fake smile, painfully aware of the proximity to the woman in question. “That’s the bride’s mother.”

Jonah blinked and snapped his mouth shut, looking a little pale. Sasha motioned for him to join her a few feet away before she spoke again.

“Why don’t I finish this tray off for you? Head back and grab another one, then hit the east side and clear off the dish tray behind Carmen’s bar—it’s looking a little precarious.” He nodded and turned to go before she stopped him. “You’d better get the dish tray first. I don’t trust that guy with the cane over there.”

Jonah looked toward the smaller bar on the right and nodded, disappearing into the throng of guests standing around the dance floor watching the brides as they continued to dance for a few songs after their first dance.

She watched them for a moment with a warmth in her chest, happy to see them both so content, before she refocused on the cocktail shrimp task she had just signed herself up for. She turned to the right and addressed the first two people standing there. “Cocktail shrimp?”

The dark-haired woman turned at the sound of her voice. It was her near match, Shelly White. “Sasha?”

“Oh, hey, Shel. Shrimp?” Sasha shouldn’t be surprised to see her; Shelly had mentioned she would be at the wedding when they had had dinner last month. That was something new to Sasha. She and Shelly had gone on half a dozen dates and things were really progressing between them, when Sasha had an accident at work with Casey and was supposed to be out of town for a training as she recovered. But everything sort of fell to shit after that, and she and Shelly lost touch. Sasha wasn’t used to maintaining friendships with her exes. Truthfully, she’d never had a connection with anyone before Shelly that she’d want to continue a friendly relationship with after the romantic or sexual side fizzled out.

That was how she had realized that she was looking for a change. Something was different in her now. She wanted more. But seeing Shelly happy with someone else was still a little difficult—it still felt fresh even though it had been a few months now.

“These are huge.” Shelly’s girlfriend Claire took one and reached out to squeeze Sasha’s elbow. “How are you?”

“Good.” Sasha kissed Claire on the cheek, careful not to drop her tray. Claire was perfect for Shelly, even if at times she hated to admit it. They just seemed to get each other. Shelly seemed to be comfortable around her in a way that she hadn’t quite achieved with Sasha. They were cute together, and recognizing that helped Sasha move on.

“What are you doing here?” Shelly declined the shellfish Claire offered her, sipping her drink instead.

Sasha shrugged. “Picking up a few catering shifts here and there for some extra money. I jumped at the chance to be a part of Samantha’s big day. She’s the best.”

Claire nodded. “She is.”

Sasha bit back a laugh—Shelly had confided in her that Claire had been totally anti-matchmaker from the moment they’d met, even though their entire first meeting was choreographed by Samantha, unbeknownst to them at the time. Sasha wondered how many of this evening’s attendees were Samantha’s clients, or possible matches for said clients. One never could know with Samantha—she was wily like that.

Applause from the surrounding crowd interrupted their conversation as Samantha and Lucinda playfully danced in the center of a larger forming circle. Sasha looked at her tray and glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to get these little guys to the masses before the first course comes out. It was great seeing you. Game night soon?”

“Definitely.” Shelly raised her glass toward Sasha and smiled. “You’re on my team this time though. Jamie totally cheated last time.”

Sasha laughed as Claire rolled her eyes and blew her a kiss. The last time she had dinner with them, Claire’s brother Jamie had come over to play video games with Shelly and a pretty heated Mario Kart tournament was born. Jamie and Claire dominated the first and second place spots of every race—it was a total ambush. Sasha had really enjoyed herself, even though she was easily the least skilled gamer there.

“Bye, Sash.” Claire waved as she and Shelly headed toward their table. Sasha watched them get comfortably seated, making a mental note to pop by their table later to check in on them.

When she glanced back toward the center of the room, she noticed a woman looking frustrated, staring down the front of her expensive dress. The woman turned and Sasha could see why: there was a red wine mark in a streak on her lap. She looked up to grab Jonah’s attention and motion for him to bring some seltzer water before she realized why the woman looked familiar—that was Marisol Monteiro, Samantha’s mother, and she was willing to bet that the wine stain was the result of Jonah’s ineptitude.

She hurried over to Marisol, handing off her shrimp tray to Jonah and shoving him out of sight before the older woman noticed. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

Marisol glanced up, appearing surprised by Sasha’s presence. “That server spilled wine on my dress.” She pointed toward Jonah’s back and her forehead creased in annoyance.

“I can get someone to help you get that out before it ruins the dress, ma’am. Give me one second, okay?” Sasha went into crisis management mode—there was nothing worse than a red wine stain on the mother of the bride’s dress before pictures were taken. This was a code red if there was one. Before Marisol had a chance to reply, Sasha jogged to the main bar and grabbed Shaun’s walkie-talkie.

“Casey?” Sasha waited for his reply.

“What’s up, Sasha?” Casey’s voice was muffled; Sasha could hear the loud noises of the kitchen staff hustling behind him.

“Is Elise there?” She didn’t have the time to try and explain the importance of this to Casey. It would be a lost cause.

“She’s busy, what’s up?” He sounded annoyed.

“Put her on, it’s important.”

The line went quiet for a moment before Elise’s voice chimed in. “Everything okay, Sash?”

“Negative. Red wine spill on the mother of the bride, totally our fault. How do we fix it?”

“Oh, crap. Depends on the material of the dress.” Sasha heard Elise tell someone near her to stir something while it was simmering. “Is it in a noticeable place?”

“Oh, yeah, big time.” Sasha was starting to sweat; this felt unreasonably more stressful than firefighting.

Shaun pulled out some lemons and seltzer and pushed them toward Sasha with a shrug. She frowned and tried Elise again. “So, anything?”

“Well the usual routine won’t resolve the stain if the material is too fine. Does Shaun have salt?”

Shaun nodded and poured some into a small bowl for Sasha.

“Affirmative, salt is available.”

A few people approached the bar and ordered drinks, so Sasha stepped to the side. Elise continued to think out loud on the line. “Okay, gather the supplies and call Giovanni.”

“Giovanni?” Sasha had zero desire to engage with the eccentric wedding planner any more than was absolutely necessary. Yes, he was a great contact for Casey and Elise, but the guy was kind of a whackadoo if you asked her.

“Something I can help with?” A female voice from behind her caused her to turn. An attractive older woman decked out in diamonds and pearls smiled at her kindly as she motioned toward the stain supplies.

“Maybe.” Sasha turned off the radio and shoved it into her back pocket. “Any tips on how to get red wine out of what appears to be a designer gown?”

“Oh, darling, of course. Who’s the unlucky victim?” The woman followed Sasha’s gaze toward Marisol, who appeared to be chastising Jonah. “Gotcha. I’ll handle this, dear.” She took the collection of items Shaun and Sasha had assembled and headed toward the unfolding scene with a gracefulness that made her appear to almost be floating.

“Who was that magical creature?” Sasha said to no one in particular, amazed at how quickly the woman deescalated the scene. Jonah slinked away looked thoroughly reprimanded and Sasha hoped he stayed in the kitchen for a while, or at least swapped his serving section with someone else. She reached for her walkie-talkie to suggest that to Casey when someone next to her answered her question.

“That is Edie Davenport. She’s a wiz at stain removal, so you’re in luck.”

Sasha looked up and locked eyes with the beautiful blonde speaking, her hazel eyes twinkling as she smiled. She looked so…“I know you. Abby, right?”

Abby nodded and accepted the drink Shaun held out to her. “I wasn’t sure if you would recognize me. How are you, Sasha?”

Sasha dropped her gaze to the glass at Abby’s lips as she considered how she knew this woman. Had they dated? No, she would remember those lips. Had they slept together? She studied the delicately manicured hand holding the glass and mulled that over. No. She looked back at Abby’s eyes and let herself get lost for a moment—her name had come to her instantly, but she couldn’t recall from where. Then it occurred to her. “The mixer. We met at one of Samantha’s mixers.”

Abby raised her eyebrow. “We met at more than one. I’m glad to see I made an impression.”

Sasha felt her face warm at her reply. She had met many of the eligible bachelorettes at those mixers. They were all attractive and funny, but her focus had been on…“Shelly. I was sort of laser focused on Shelly. Sorry, I…Sorry.” She wasn’t sure what else to say so she fell back on the advice her father always told her: when in doubt, listen before you speak.

Abby shrugged and looked out at the dance floor with a frown. “It’s okay. I was in the same boat.”

Sasha turned with her and saw Shelly and Claire dancing and laughing. She looked back at Abby and found Abby watching her. “Yeah. That’s kinda—”

“Sucky,” Abby supplied with a laugh.

“Totally sucky.” Sasha shook her head as she considered the irony of the situation. She was standing at the bar watching her near perfect match dance with her girlfriend, while commiserating with another near perfect match at the wedding of their shared matchmaker. It was kind of ridiculous. She decided to run with it. “So, clearly I’m working at this event.” She motioned toward her uniform. “Woefully still single and in a unisex tuxedo. What about you?”

“Well, although I’m not a fan of the term woeful, I, too, am single. But I am decidedly better dressed.” Abby sipped her drink and did a curtsy.

“You’ve definitely got me there.” Sasha took a moment to appreciate the emerald cocktail dress Abby wore. It pulled out the green in her hazel eyes. Plus, it was very figure flattering, which Sasha also noticed. “You look great.”

“Thanks.” Abby looked back to the dance floor and chuckled. “I think the stain debacle has been resolved. I see hugging.”

Sasha let out a sigh and leaned against the bar in relief. “Oh, thank God.” Marisol was embracing Edie, her expression markedly improved from earlier. “Crisis averted. I would offer to buy this Edie Davenport a drink, but the cocktails are free, so I don’t want to come across as cheap.”

Abby leaned against the bar next to her and nodded. “Yup, that would totally seem like a cheap thing to do. You’ll have to come up with something more creative.”

Sasha considered this. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure her necklace is worth more than my life. I’ll see if I can’t convince the kitchen to whip her up something special.”

“I have it on good authority that her favorite after-dinner drink is cappuccino and that she has a soft spot for lemon meringue.”

“You’re a valuable information resource.” Sasha turned, leaning on her elbow to face Abby more fully. “I’d better keep you around.”

Abby gave her a curious look. “I’m not really one to be kept.”

“I didn’t—I mean, I’m not suggesting—”

“Relax.” Abby briefly placed her hand on Sasha’s forearm. “I’m kidding.”

Sasha blew a wisp of her dark hair out of her eyes, looking for a segue. “So, tell me, how did you get invited to the biggest wedding of the year?”

Abby paused, sipping her drink before she replied. “I work at a nonprofit that does a lot of work with Samantha and Andrew.”

“Oh? What do you do there?” Sasha ignored the crackle of the walkie-talkie in her pocket. Abby was intriguing. She was gorgeous and flirtatious, but a little sassy, too. It wasn’t often that Sasha was caught off guard by a pretty woman—but twice now, Abby had made her stutter or blush.

“I’m an accountant.” Abby shocked her once again.

“An accountant?” Sasha couldn’t help the once over she gave Abby and, to her horror, her mouth began saying things that her brain was screaming to keep to herself. “There is no way someone as gorgeous as you fools around with numbers all day.”

“Is that so?” Abby blinked, a small smile settling on her face as she placed the now empty cocktail glass on the bar. Sasha was aware of Shaun trying to stifle a laugh behind them. She swallowed, waiting for what would be a totally deserved tongue lashing for her forwardness.

“Does it bother you? That I prefer the company of numbers to people with limited filters, such as yourself?” Abby’s lips shined as her tongue slid along them. “Contrary to what your skewed opinion may be, one can be both gorgeous and into math.”

Sasha wasn’t sure what to say, but her father’s advice was clearly trodden on now. Abby saved her from making any more of a fool of herself as she turned to leave.

“But thanks for the compliment.” Abby reached into her purse and slid a tip across the bar top toward Shaun, who was now shaking with laughter. She gave Sasha one last glance before she walked away. “Your back pocket is squeaking.”

Sasha’s hand went to the walkie-talkie as a muted squeal came from it, masked only by Shaun’s uncontrollable laughter. She watched Abby stride away, her dress shifting seamlessly with every move, a beautiful, delicate creature disappearing into the crowd as the dance floor began to empty. She sighed. She had royally fucked that up.

“Smooth, Romeo.” Shaun was wiping tears from his eyes as he attempted to pour drinks, a small line having gathered to the right of Sasha.

“Shut up, Shaun,” Sasha said under her breath as she stepped away, turning up the volume on the walkie-talkie and checking in with Casey. “What?”

“Sasha,” Casey huffed, “I’ve been trying to reach you for like five minutes. Did the stain thing get resolved?”

“Yeah, sorry. It’s all good.” Sasha couldn’t make eye contact with Shaun because every time she did, he just snorted and got a little redder from laughing.

“Good. I need you to pop in here. The first course is almost ready and we have a little backup—” The sound of something breaking in the kitchen cut off the rest of his sentence.

She quickly turned down the volume in case swearing followed the unmistakable sound of dishes smashing and dropped her head, trying not to pout. This was definitely not how she had anticipated her night going.

“Don’t worry, Sash.” Shaun pursed his lips, his face still flushed from chuckling. “I’ll hold down the fort. Think you can bring me a few more stars, Fruit Queen?”

Shaun giggled uncontrollably as Sasha tossed a crumpled cocktail napkin in his direction as she headed for the kitchen. Fruit Queen, indeed.

Chapter Four

“Samantha.” Lucinda’s tone was playful but warning.

“Yes, my dearest wife?” Samantha loved the sound of that. Saying it aloud felt like a dream come true—she and Lucinda had been through a lot in their relatively short time together, and this was easily the happiest day of her life. Well, maybe after Lucinda accepting her proposal, and the night of unbridled passion that followed it. Maybe.

Lucinda laughed and spun Samantha, kissing her softly and holding her close. “I don’t think I will ever get tired of hearing that.”

“Well that’s good because I’m pretty sure that’s the only way I will address you from now on.”

“With the dearest part?” Lucinda’s hand settled at the middle of her back, guiding her into the next turn.

“I’m sure I’ll substitute other words on occasion. Like beautiful or sexy or wonderful…” Samantha followed Lucinda’s lead and stepped into the turn confidently. Dancing with Lucinda Moss was as easy as breathing these days. They had some of their best conversations during these moments—it was like time froze outside of their little bubble. She was still on her high after finishing their first dance as a married couple, thrilled at their perfect execution, glowing at how proud Lucinda was that all their practice had paid off. The whole thing made Samantha feel very emotional. And surprisingly charged.

“I know that look, Samantha.” Lucinda’s arms were wrapped around her, and they swayed with the music, taking a few more minutes to themselves before they would start to mingle with their guests. They had agreed to enjoy tonight with each other as much as possible. Samantha had been the one to suggest it. In all her years of matchmaking the biggest complaint she heard from her married clients was that the night became more of a meet-and-greet than a celebration of their love. Samantha was determined not to let that happen to them, which was precisely why their vow exchange was a private affair with their immediate friends and family. The reception was a time of partying and joy—but they intended to share that with each other as much as possible. Which was another reason why Lucinda noticing that look made Samantha feel like kind of a hypocrite.

“Tell me, love. What does that look mean?” Samantha wrapped her arms around Lucinda’s neck and brought their lips close. Being able to say that Lucinda was hers forever was doing all kinds of things to the butterflies in her stomach.

“That look usually means you’re up to something. I think, considering our recent exchange of promises to each other, that we ought to have a clean slate, no secrets. What’s up?” Lucinda’s blue eyes twinkled. Samantha loved her a little more.

“Well, I was thinking…”

“Mm-hmm, told ya.” Lucinda tightened her arms around Samantha’s waist, pulling them closer together as the crowd around them danced to the music in the background.

Samantha wrinkled her nose and laughed. “I was thinking that once we got back from the Italian Riviera…”

“And the villa in Sardinia.” Lucinda kissed her.

“And after the villa.”

“Where we’ll have no cell phone reception, no internet, no distractions, and I’m hoping, no clothes.” Lucinda’s hands wandered off her hips ever so slightly, sending a shiver up her spine.

“Precisely. After all of that…” Samantha could taste the promises of sleepless nights and lounging, nap-filled days on the lips of her bride. Her stomach tightened in response.

“Do you really want to think about after that, Samantha?” Lucinda’s lips were by her ear as she continued to dance them slowly. “Don’t you think you might be rushing past the best part of this wedding—the honeymoon? I’d hate to think your attentions were elsewhere. I have a feeling you’re going to need all the focus you can muster for the things I have planned for you.”

Samantha felt faint. Lucinda ran her hand up Samantha’s back and along her side, brushing the side of her breast before settling at her ribcage. Samantha closed her eyes at the contact, willing herself to breathe, her ribs expanding and the pressure of Lucinda’s hand becoming more obvious. This plan was backfiring. “Shit.”

Lucinda laughed and slid her hand back to the comfortably PG position at Samantha’s hip. “You were saying?”

Samantha opened her eyes to find Lucinda’s knowing smile greeting her. “You’re the worst.”

Lucinda merely shrugged, leaning forward to press a lingering kiss to Samantha’s lips. She breathed out slowly. “Just reminding you to enjoy the moment, like we agreed.”

Samantha nodded, keeping their lips together as she snuggled closer to Lucinda. “Right.”

“So.” Lucinda kissed her forehead as the next song began. “Obviously, you have something on your mind that needs discussing. Do tell.”

Samantha pulled back and gave Lucinda a broad smile. Lucinda just got her. It was magical. “Well, I was thinking, don’t you think Abby and Sasha are a good-looking couple?”

Lucinda’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “Abby? Cardigan, accountant Abby? The one that Shelly was matched to?”

“That’s the one.” Samantha nodded with excitement. She couldn’t wait for Lucinda to catch on so they could discuss it. “And Sasha…” She tried to hurry this realization along.

“The firefighter?”

“Right. Her mother was a dancer remember?” Samantha tried to jog Lucinda’s memory.

“Ah, yes. The Russian ballerina. How could I forget? What about her?”

“Well, I think she’d be a good match for Abby.”

“Sasha’s mother? Don’t you think she’s a little old for Abby? Plus, I think she’s married. And straight.”

“What? No.” Samantha huffed when she realized Lucinda was teasing her. “Ugh. You—”

“Are the most loving and caring wife, ever?” Lucinda supplied as she turned them.

“Yeah, that.” Samantha rolled her eyes and laughed. “Anyway, look over at the main bar.” Samantha turned them again, so Lucinda had a clear sight toward the bar.

“Okay, wow, that bartender is tall,” Lucinda marveled.

Samantha turned to look and sighed. “That’s Shaun. He’s the primary intoxicologist. I’m talking about the people at the bar, Luce, focus.”

“Andrew and Ben? They are awfully cute together.”

“Lucy,” Samantha whined. “The women at the bar, next to them.”

Lucinda pretended to squint and gave Samantha a dramatic, playful nod. “Oh, you mean Abby talking to Sasha. Abby looks great—green is a good color on her. That’s a nice upgrade from the cardigan.”

“Finally.” Samantha turned them so they both had an unobstructed view. “See how Abby touched Sasha’s arm just then. She’s flirting. This is good.”

“Why is that good?” Lucinda paused. “I mean, I know why that’s good, but more specifically, why is that good at this exact moment in time, such that you feel the need to discuss it during our wedding reception?”

“It’s good because I haven’t been able to find either of them a match since Shelly and Claire got together. And earlier I saw Sasha looking a little sad as she watched them dance.”

Lucinda leaned back and cast a suspicious glance toward Samantha. “You’re watching the guests watching the other guests? Samantha, I thought we agreed you wouldn’t work at our wedding.”

“I can’t help that I’m naturally observant, Luce.” Samantha shrugged. “It’s a gift.”

“Mm-hmm.” Lucinda laughed. “Okay, let’s say I humor you and agree that they would be an attractive couple, because, undoubtedly, they are each beautiful and smart and funny.”

“Yes?” Samantha loved when Lucinda entertained her wild matchmaking mania.

“But what do they even have in common?”

“Shelly.” Samantha replied as though it was as clear as day.

“Who is with Claire,” Lucinda added.

“Right. But that’s what they have in common. Shelly. They were both supposed to be matched to Shelly. Clearly, Shelly was better suited to be with Claire. But what if Sasha and Abby are actually a match for each other? I mean, I think it’s kind of genius.”

“It’s kind of something, that’s for sure.” Lucinda teased her and twirled her on the dance floor.

“Rude.” Samantha shook her head and pointed back toward the bar. “I’m just saying, I think it’s something to consider.”

Lucinda’s gaze followed her gesture and she frowned. “Maybe. But if the way Shaun the giant is laughing and Sasha is blushing while Abby walks away is any indication at all, you may have missed the mark on that one.”

Samantha watched Abby roll her eyes as she walked past them, sitting at the table with her mother, Edie, in a huff. “Crap.”

“Okay, let’s make a deal.” Lucinda slowed their movements and cupped her jaw, directing her attention to Lucinda’s face. “When we get back, after we thoroughly enjoy ourselves and have really embraced the awesomeness of married life, I promise to entertain your theory on Abby and Sasha. But after we get back. Fair?”

Samantha let herself get lost in the blue eyes looking back at her with adoration. She was so looking forward to their time together—this wedding had been a dream to plan because, in truth, her match to Lucinda was a dream come true. But Lucinda was right, like always—this moment was about them. Not about Abby or Sasha or Perfect Match, Inc. “Fair.”


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