Autumn: Book Two of The Matchmaker Chronicles – Chapter One
“What ti-i-ime is it?” Rina Thorn rested her elbows on the table in a corner booth as she waited for her friend’s response.
“It’s Margarita time!” said Maggie Barnes, her partner extraordinaire in making the world right.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout. We need to celebrate. I. Survived. Thirty-three kids, another one coming in on Monday, new principal—a former VP from a high school—doesn’t have a clue about the elementary level.” Rina sighed and pursed her lips. “Tell me why I do this?”
“Beats the hell out of me. I remember you saying something about making a difference in a child’s life.”
“Darn you, woman. That sounds like something I believe.”
“Okay, you’re loyal, energetic, make people smile—”
“I’m not a dog. I’m a fifty-plus-years old woman questioning my chosen career path.”
“At least, your job is important, educating kids,” Maggie said. “I spend my days at the credit union punching numbers into accounts.”
“Don’t be dismissive of your work. Someone has to be there to safeguard other people’s money.”
“Really?” Maggie threaded her fingers through her short reddish hair. “Do you think customers who come into the credit union think I’m safeguarding their money?”
“If they don’t, they aren’t appreciating the exceptional customer service you provide.”
“Let’s order.” Maggie looked over at the bar. “Marissa’s waiting on someone, but she waved. She’ll be here in a minute.”
Moments later, the bartender came over. “Hello ladies. The usual?”
“Marissa, you know the answer to that question.”
She laughed. “Coming up.” She left to get their orders.
“My job is kicking my butt. On the positive side, even the younger teachers are exhausted.” Rina looked at Maggie. “You’re still a child. A baby girl. You just passed the big Four-O. I remember the day we met. Little Jenn took one look at Ander and followed him everywhere. I’ve got to give it to her. Even at five-years-old, our girl had taste.”
“You saved my life. I was a single mom and overwhelmed. You kept me sane.”
By the time she’d finished her first drink and was on her second Margarita, Rina felt the tension gripping her shoulders ease. A little. “Let’s get down to the business at hand. How do we want to handle our Allegra Project? We stumbled through matchmaking this last time. We need to improve our game plan. What strategies worked?”
“Hard question.” Maggie shrugged. “Let’s start from the beginning.”
“We decided to take matters into our own hands to help our children find their true loves. I had a party. Ander and Noelle met. Despite some obstacles, they fell in love.”
“Obstacles? Understate much? How about calling it a shit-storm of trouble? Finn and Jenn falling in love were not in my plan and I almost ruined their lives by interfering. So what are you saying, Rina? We still don’t have a clue?”
“That pretty much covers it. We may not know what we’re doing, but we have optimistic attitudes—of a sort—and persistence on our side. We have to try. Sarah is counting on us to help her niece.” Rina took out her notebook. “Here’s what we know about Allegra.”
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Rina and Maggie had decided the next step in the project was to meet with Allegra, then speak with Ander, Noelle, Finn, and Jenn about potential suitors, and update Sarah.
“Wow,” said Maggie. “I think that’s a good start. What are you doing the rest of the afternoon?”
“Well.” Rina clutched her fingers. “You know I’m not an interfering mother or anything like that.”
Maggie choked on her drink and had to dab off the spurt from her chin.
Rina glared and continued after Maggie stopped laughing. “I’ve made an appointment with another person in need of our services.”
“What?” Maggie’s eyes widened.
“You met Quinn Baxter at the wedding reception, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, he’s Ander’s business partner?”
“Not only partner. Friend.”
“Quiet? Geeky. Cute … but not my type.”
“I should hope not,” Rina said. “He’s about the same age as Ander—early thirties—but still a baby boy. You cougar!”
“I’d like to think of myself as more of a M.I.L.F.” Maggie smiled and tossed a kiss at Rina.
Shocked, Rina sputtered and sang, “Bad girl, bad girl, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Uh-oh. Now I have the image of Ander, my sweet son, and you in my head. That’s gross. Stop it! Take it away.”
“Oh.” Rina’s best friend looked a little pale. “Eww. A M.I.L.F. is usually a non-relative attracted to a “mom” about that kind of deed. Ander is family, so he’s eliminated.”
Rina frowned. “It’s still in my head. Don’t ever say anything like that again!”
“Sorry. What’s your plan for Quinn?”
“He needs our help, but I’m hesitant about taking this on during the first part of the school year.” Rina sighed. “After work, I crawl home and, on a nap-free afternoon, I park myself in front of the flickering lights of the television to be soothed as I correct papers.”
“I’m not cool enough to understand what happens during social activities of a group that young. Do they stay with their friends or pair up and leave? Do they group date?”
“After we get Quinn’s agreement, I’ll talk it over with Ander and see what he has to say.”
“You think Ander will want any part of this?” Maggie questioned.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Rina raised her eyebrows. “In case you haven’t noticed, my favorite oldest son has a hard time saying no to me. Besides, it’s not an unreasonable request. I’m working on Quinn’s future happiness.”
“So Quinn is coming here because he’s asked us to find him a soul mate?” Maggie asked.
“Not exactly.” Rina put her hands together in a prayerful pose. “I think he is a man who wants a family, but he doesn’t know how to make it happen.”
“Rina, why does he think he’s meeting you?” Maggie wagged her straw.
“I told him I needed him for a project.” Rina took a sip of her drink, refusing to feel guilty because she was about to intervene. It was for his own good. “I didn’t tell him that he is the project.”
Maggie held up her glass. “Good call!” They chuckled before toasting.
“What are you celebrating?” Quinn Baxter asked.
Rina looked up and smiled. How this amazing example of man-candy had not been snatched up was beyond her. Six foot two inches of a gorgeous hunk with rich, dark brown hair, worn in a messy man-bun, brown eyes that sparkled even through his wire-rimmed glasses, cheekbones you could sharpen a razor on. While she was old enough to be his mother, she could still appreciate a handsome man. She stopped her appraisal to fan herself—and thought it might look like she was in the throes of a hot flash. “You, sweetie. We’re toasting you.” She scooted over in the booth and Quinn slid in beside her.
“We were toasting your future wedding.” Rina patted his hand. “Before the wedding can take place, we’re going to find you the woman you don’t know you’re waiting for. That’s the project.”
“Yeah, congrats.” Maggie tipped her glass in his direction before taking a sip.
Quinn rested his elbow on the table. His gaze bounced between Rina and Maggie.
“I tend to render men speechless. It’s a gift. When I told Ander it was time for him to settle down and get married, he had the same reaction,” Rina said.
“I’m not speechless. I’m processing the information. Do I know the bride?”
“Not yet. But you will by the time the wedding takes place.”
Quinn looked at Maggie and she nodded.
“What have you observed that led you to this conclusion concerning my matrimonial state?”
“I watched you at Ander and Noelle’s reception.” A frown pleated Rina’s brow. “I think you want the kind of connection they have.”
“Love, not just connection,” Maggie asserted.
“If I’m wrong, tell me, and I’ll back off.” Rina held up both her hands.
“Say I agree to participate in your project. How do you propose to make this happen? What is your methodology? Do you have a timeline? What criteria have you established?”
“We needed to make certain you were on board first.”
Maggie rubbed her hands together. “Leave everything to us. You won’t be sorry.”
“You ladies have given me some things to consider.”
Rina smiled. “Can we buy you a drink? Appetizer?”
Quinn looked at Rina, and then at Maggie. “Yes, a drink.”
* * *
After Quinn left, Maggie said, “Where do we start?”
“Remember when we swore off matchmaking? We don’t want a repeat of broken hearts.”
“But they mended and all of us got our happily ever afters.”
Rina rummaged in her purse and drew out a plastic sheet protector containing the ultrasound. “Speaking of happily ever after, here is the first picture of my grandbaby.” Even though she’d seen it hundreds of times, she couldn’t prevent the surge of pure elation that danced through her body or the wide smile that crossed her face.
Maggie took it. “Whoa, I didn’t even get a sonogram when I was pregnant with Jenn.” She peered closer. “It’s so tiny.”
“We call it Gummy Bear.”
“In the future, if I ever make any snarky comments, remember that I’m happy for you.” She put out her hand and squeezed Rina’s. “Is their house almost done?”
“They hope to be in by mid-October.” Rina rolled her eyes. “You know how those construction dates work … or not. But the nursery is almost ready even though the baby is months away.”
“Thanks.” Rina carefully slid the ultrasound back into her purse. “How are things going with your kids?”
“Practically inseparable and Jenn is not such a workaholic now that she has Finn in her life.”
“Any marriage talk?”
“You won’t believe it, but I’m staying away from bugging Jenn about that kind of thing. They’re over-the-moon happy and that makes me happy.”
Rina leaned forward, put her hand on Maggie’s forehead and said, “Hmm, not feverish. This doesn’t sound like my friend.”
“Maybe I’ve learned something from you. To be happy with what Jenn chooses, not with what I want.”
Rina raised her glass. “To our children and their perfect matches.”
Maggie added, “And to our new projects and their soul mates.”