Just a few more painful steps to freedom. I kept a smile plastered to my face as I tottered to the valet stand in the one pair of gorgeous, sparkly, gold Louboutin heels I’d splurged on a few years back but I didn’t wear often enough to be comfortable in. Any true gentleman would’ve offered me his arm, but that was definitely not how I would describe my escort—the absolute last in a long string of bad dates arranged by caring but clueless friends and relatives. This one by my own mother.
As I neared the door, a happy couple sashayed in, arm in arm, with their heads together and sly smiles on their faces, like they were sharing an intimate joke. They were so caught up in each other, they didn’t even notice me. My heart sunk at the sight of them. I should’ve been happy for them; I’d hooked them up with each other, after all. But all I felt was jealousy.
I was great at finding other people their perfect match, but myself? Not so much. And while everyone I knew had tried to pair me up with “the perfect guy” at one point or another, none of them had been the least bit successful. But what could I expect? The Sweet Bay pool of eligible men was pretty shallow.
It should’ve been a clue when Tom wanted me to meet him at the restaurant instead of picking me up. Then he spent the whole evening talking about himself and his plans to leave Sweet Bay and become the next billionaire business mogul. I guess he thought he could get a head start on building his fortune by going dutch on his dates. Seriously, didn’t my mother know anything about me at all?
But at least having my car there meant the evening could end a little earlier. I could drive myself home and avoid the awkward end-of-date ritual where I told the guy he didn’t need to walk me to my door, but he insisted, usually because he thought the date went a lot better than I did and expected a kiss or an invitation to come inside.
Instead, I handed my ticket to the valet then busied myself putting on my pashmina, something else any guy with manners would’ve offered to help me with. Tom just stood there looking clueless and didn’t even offer to hold my bag while I wrestled with the long wrap.
“Maybe we can go out again after my business takes off,” Tom said. It took all my willpower not to tell him exactly why I would not be going out with him again but thankfully, the valet pulled up in my car just then, distracting me.
“Thanks for dinner.” I gave Tom a quick smile as I hurried outside and slid into the drivers’ seat of my cute, red Beetle.
I didn’t think I could press the gas that hard in 4-inch heels, but I was so eager to get away from there, I took off, roaring out of the parking lot exit like Herbie the Love Bug. I didn’t even look in the rearview mirror till a siren squawked behind me, startling me. I yelped and jerked my car over to the side of the road, expecting the cruiser to pass, but instead, it veered behind me.
Tom sailed past me as I stared out the windshield, totally defeated. How bad could this night get?
The police officer tapped on my window with a flashlight, blinding me. I squinted, trying to make out the face as I rolled down my window.
“License and registration?” I still couldn’t see anything but her shiny badge, but the voice made it obvious who it was.
“Hey, Georgie.” I sighed, popping the glove compartment to pull out my papers. Of all the cops in town, Georgie Lancaster was the last one I wanted to pull me over. As the only female police officer in Sweet Bay, she had something to prove and didn’t cut anybody any slack.
“Katie, do you know how fast you were going?”
I forced the smile back onto my face and tried to look innocent, or at least clueless, as I handed over my papers. “No, I just pulled out of the Sweet Bay Resort.”
She pursed what could’ve been a cute face if she ever smiled into a disapproving frown. “That’s only two blocks back. You were already going 50 miles per hour, in a 35. That’s a three-point offense. Do you always accelerate that quickly?”
My face puckered up, and all my pent up frustration from that night and a dozen others like it erupted in a geyser. Georgie jumped back and gawked at me like I was an exploding firework, shooting dangerous sparks instead of tears.
When I’d run out of tears and my wails subsided to hitched sobs, she dared to step closer, patting her uniform like she was looking for a handkerchief, or maybe some pepper spray, in case I lost it again.
“Katie, are you okay?”
“I just had to get away from him,” I said, still sucking in gasping breaths.
Her eyes bulged, and she put one hand on her gun and the other on her shoulder radio. “Are you in danger? Have you been threatened? Who was it? I’ll go after him.”
I wiped an arm across my face to avoid making eye contact. She was going to think I was pathetic. “I’m only in danger of becoming an old maid. There’s not a decent single guy left in this whole town. Can you put an APB out for one of those?”
Her scowl relaxed as she snorted out a laugh. “I wish. I’ve got a database of criminals. We need one for eligible bachelors.”
I gaped at her. Sympathy was the last thing I expected. I never thought of Georgie that way, but why not? Just because she was a tomboy didn’t mean she wasn’t interested in finding love. Maybe having a boyfriend would soften Georgie up a bit. My mind instantly scanned though the potential guys, trying to think of one who suited her, but I came up blank.
“I could make you a list. There aren’t that many, and I’m pretty sure I’ve dated them all.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, did you know that single women outnumber single men in this town two to one?”
“Really? No wonder it’s so hard to find a good man around here. But all the single women are really great. I wish there was some way to draw in new prospects for those of us who don’t want to move to the city.”
“We need mail order grooms.” She chuckled at her own comment but then stopped abruptly and locked her no-nonsense police officer mask back into place when I gawked at her.
“I was just teasing.”
“I know, but honestly, that’s a great idea, Georgie! The resort brought lots of tourists here that never heard of Sweet Bay before. What if we could do the same thing for eligible bachelors?”
“How would you do that?”
“I’ll make an app or a website or something like that.” Excitement bloomed in my cheeks. I’d been bored lately and looking for a new hobby to fill the hole left by my dwindling dating life. This would be a perfect distraction.
One eyebrow disappeared under her cap. “Do you know anything about programming?”
I shrugged and waved it off. “No, but I’ll hire somebody to do that part. In fact, doesn’t your brother Will know a lot about computers?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Great! He’ll be perfect then! Can you give me his number?”
“Uh, okay.” She paused for a moment, like she thought it might be some kind of trick, then hooked her flashlight on her belt then pulled out her cell phone.
I grabbed mine from my handbag and added Will’s number as she rattled it off. I had the number of just about every other guy who grew up in Sweet Bay, but Will was one of the few I’d never been out with, mostly because he’d moved away right after high school to pursue a career in the tech world.
Once I had the number, I gave an excited squeal and wiggle then stuck the phone back in my bag.
“Perfect! I can’t wait to get started. I better go if I want to call him tonight. It’s getting late. Thanks for the idea, Georgie!”
“Wait!” Georgie called as I took off, leaving her standing by the side of the road, gaping after me.
It was only after I noticed the lights on her cruiser still flashing that I realized what I’d done. I cringed in the rearview mirror, pressed on the brakes to slow my speed below 50, and prayed she wouldn’t chase after me. I had more important things to worry about than a speeding ticket.
When she was out of sight, I dared to break another traffic law by grabbing my phone and dialing her brother.
“Hello?” he answered dubiously on the fourth ring, probably after debating whether or not to ignore the call completely since I doubted he recognized my number.
“Hi Will, I have a proposition for you,” I blurted out, too excited to waste time with small talk.
“What? Who is this?”
“Oh, sorry! It’s Katie Killian, from Sweet Bay.”
Feeling awkward, I started babbling, which didn’t help things at all. “See, I had a date tonight, and it was terrible, like most of them have been. And then I got pulled over by your sister for speeding, and we were talking about how there are so few single guys in Sweet Bay, and so many great girls. Then Georgie mentioned mail order grooms, and I thought it was a great idea. But I didn’t know how to get started. Your name came up, and I thought you’d be perfect, so I asked for you number, and—”
“Katie, are you calling to ask me to marry you?” he squeaked, interrupting me.
“What? No!” My heart leapt up into my throat, making me sound like a choking frog.
“Then what does this have to do with me?”
I had a tendency to ramble when I was excited. I took a deep breath and forced myself to focus on the point of the phone call. “I need someone with tech skills to help me build a website.”
I could practically feel the drop in pressure as he sighed in relief. “Oh, okay.”
My own nervousness gave way to pure excitement. “Okay? So you’ll do it? That’s awesome! I’ll round up some potential clients, and you brainstorm design ideas. Are you busy next Saturday?”
“Uh, I don’t think so—”
“Great! We’ll get together to discuss the logistics. Meet me at the diner at 5.” I hung up, tossing the phone on the passenger seat so I could give a little clap, then quickly yanked the steering wheel when my car started to veer.
Now all I had to do was find women willing to let me post their profile online. I could display their picture along with a short bio about their interests and what makes them special. There were plenty of great women in Sweet Bay who would be perfect candidates.
My brain started compiling a list as I pulled into my apartment parking lot and saw Jane walking her calico cat in her scruffy, pink bathrobe. That woman was in danger of becoming a crazy cat lady if she didn’t find somebody soon. It should be a piece of cake to persuade her to give my matchmaking service a try.
I swung my car into the first parking spot I saw, jumped out, then tiptoe ran over to Jane, trying not to damage my red-bottoms. “Jane! You’re just the person I need to talk to!”
She gave me a strange, and slightly worried, look as I windmilled my arms backwards, stopping myself just before I planted a stiletto in the grass. “Nice shoes. Did you have a date tonight?”
“Yeah, with Tom Mason.”
“Wow.” Her eyebrows popped up, and she wrapped her robe tighter around her pudgy middle, pulling on her cat’s leash. Esmeralda mewled and flopped onto the ground.
I grimaced. “Not really. He’s good looking, and smart, but he’s also full of himself, has no manners, and he’s moving out of town, anyway.”
Jane shrugged like she might be willing to forgive those flaws for a chance to go out with somebody instead of spending Saturday night home alone with her cat. Maybe Jane wasn’t the best choice. She might turn off potential clients who didn’t want to look as desperate as she was.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about?”
I froze with an awkward smile on my face as I tried to think of an excuse. “Oh, nothing. I just saw a cat wandering around, and I thought it might be yours, but I guess not.”
“I never let Esme run loose. She might get lost.” Jane tugged on Esmeralda’s leash, and the cat growled at her like it would run away if given the opportunity. Any man who dated her would probably feel the same way. If I wanted my new venture to be successful, I had to pick better clients than Jane.
I needed women who were desperate but still a great catch. Like me. I knew there were plenty of them in Sweet Bay.
But I had no idea how difficult it would be to convince them.