Gulping, feminine sounds burst from the other end of the phone. Grabbing her pen, Izzy scribbled down notes, making soothing noises and quickly bringing up the woman’s profile on the computer.
“Yes, Hailey, I have your screen profile right here. You had a date with Gary last night and—oh, he didn’t pick up the check? No, I agree there’s no excuse. Did you offer to pay? Well, if you offered and he agreed, it wasn’t a deliberate ploy to force you to take care of him. Gary is a people pleaser, so he may have thought you were intent on showing him you’re completely independent.”
As the client rambled on about gigolos and being taken advantage of, Izzy smiled at the tall blonde who walked in, looking nervous and excited. The second and third phone lines lit up and the fax machine shuddered, spitting out page after page of profiles.
“I don’t think you should be hasty, Hailey,” she said in her best soothing tone. “We matched you with Gary after an extensive profiling, and he already called to let us know he can’t wait to call you for another date. Said you were beautiful and charming.” The startled pause on the line told her she’d hit the real problem. Hailey’s confidence had been shattered by a previous breakup. Arilyn had been working with her in therapy, but first dates were extremely difficult for her.
The tone of the conversation immediately changed. Hailey burst into a detailed description of the date and how she really liked Gary and would give him another chance to pay. Izzy made a note on the chart, wrapped up the phone call, took care of the other messages, and motioned the new client over.
“Welcome to Kinnections. Are you here to see Kate?”
The woman nodded. “Yes. I have a session scheduled.”
“We’re so happy you’re here. Can I get you some coffee or tea? Water?”
“No, thank you. I’m too nervous.”
Izzy smiled with encouragement. “Nerves are good. It reminds us we’re alive and taking a step toward changing our life.” She glanced at the schedule. “Shelby, right?”
“Yes. I like that philosophy. Makes me feel more empowered.”
“Our mental state is the most important obstacle in dating and relationships.” Izzy buzzed Kate, then handed the client a clipboard with a lengthy questionnaire. “You’re in good hands with Kinnections.”
“My friend was matched here and she’s so happy. I just feel, well, I’m ready, you know? Ready to find someone to share things with.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” Izzy kept the smile on her face, but inside she ached. How long had it been since a man held her? Touched her? Hell, even taken her to dinner or the movies?
Yet maybe not long enough.
The click of heels made her turn. Kate stood next to her desk dressed in her usual black pantsuit, her silver hair swinging under her chin in a smart, sleek bob. She was the epitome of a polished businesswoman, yet warmth infused her voice. Kate was one of the three owners of Kinnections, and Izzy was consistently impressed with Kate’s ability to balance the high emotions intrinsic to a matchmaking business with the practical ability to make rational decisions.
“Good to see you again, Shelby. I’m looking forward to the beginning of your journey with Kinnections. We’ll be going into the first room on the left. Why don’t you take a seat, start on the questionnaire, and I’ll be right there?”
Shelby nodded and disappeared.
“How are you doing, Izzy? I feel like we didn’t even get to say good morning to each other.”
Izzy grinned. “Because the moment nine a.m. comes, we’re slammed. Ever since Kinnections was dubbed the “love fix” in Cosmopolitan magazine, there’s no such thing as downtime. I don’t know how you three are managing.”
“Ugh, I really hate that term they stuck on us, but Kennedy said it was marketing genius that doubled our client base.” As a co-owner of Kinnections, Kennedy was in charge of the makeovers, social media, and marketing. Arilyn was the third woman in the powerful trio, and she concentrated on computer matching and therapy for all of the clients. Together, they had created a dynamic, profitable business and were still close like sisters.
“You don’t like being called a love doctor?” Izzy teased.
Kate winced. “It’s awful. Even worse with it spread all over Facebook and Instagram in our ads.”
“Ah, but that’s because I’m a genius.” Kennedy’s throaty voice cut through the air. “We made a crapload of money and we’re so busy Arilyn couldn’t take on teaching another anger management course. You should be thanking me.”
Izzy took in her apple-green Michael Kors suit, Jimmy Choo pumps, and Kate Spade bag. With her thick caramel-colored hair and flawless appearance, she was a driving force both in the company and with anyone she came into contact with. Izzy adored her smart-ass demeanor and wicked sense of humor. Kate lifted her brow. “I hate it and refuse to thank you. You made us post our pictures on the banner!”
Kennedy flashed a smug grin. “Of course. We’re all super hot, so that sells both females and males. I would’ve put the dogs on there, too, but Arilyn gave me some crap about animal rights.”
A third voice joined the mix, the tone low and melodic. “I refuse to allow Pinky or Robert to be exploited in your quest for money,” Arilyn said firmly. Her long, straight red hair fell to her waist, and she was dressed in her usual organic-cotton yoga pants and shirt. “We can hardly keep up with our client base to begin with.”
The final member of the trio, Arilyn was a huge animal rescue advocate, vegetarian, counselor, and one of the most giving, beautiful women Izzy had ever met. She brought a calm balance to the team.
“Thank goodness we hired you, Izzy,” Kate said. “The last receptionist was trying to poach dates from the system. Too bad your sister went back to surgery. She could’ve been a master matchmaker.”
Her twin, Genevieve, had briefly worked at Kinnections when she decided to leave her career in medicine, but then she realized being a surgeon was her true calling. Izzy was grateful the team had taken a chance with her, on Gen’s recommendation. She’d hurt a lot of people in the past few years, including her twin, but Gen had welcomed her back into her life with open arms. Emotion choked her throat. Her entire family had been forgiving and ready to take a chance on her again. She’d sworn to never let them down.
“I appreciate you hiring me,” she said quietly. “I know I hadn’t done much to earn your trust, but I really love working here.”
Arilyn patted her shoulder. “We all deserve second chances. I know it’s only been a month, but I’ve been so impressed. Not only with the way you handle the clients, but your computer skills are off the hook.”
She shrugged. “I’ve always been good with computers. I like fooling around.”
“Well, I was wondering if you’d like to take on another project. I just can’t seem to handle the workload any longer, and I need someone to double-check the new spreadsheets and data I fed into the system.”
Pleasure speared her. It had been a long time since she excelled at anything besides waitressing or selling makeup. “I’d love to help.”
Kennedy tilted her head and studied her. “When are you going to let us hook you up, babe? Don’t you think it’s time?”
Izzy wondered if she’d ever again feel ready to have a relationship. Then again, that had been the reason she avoided entanglements in the first place. Much easier to make drugs her one and only lover. They were a possessive, jealous, and demanding partner. She’d passed her two-year anniversary drug-free and built a solid, comforting life for herself. Even her mentor agreed she could begin to test the dating waters, but for the first time ever, Izzy enjoyed the boredom. She’d become everything she once detested, trapped in a regular routine with no additional color.
She was finally at a certain level of peace.
Izzy waved a hand in the air and laughed. “Thanks for the thought, but I’m good. I am thinking of getting a dog, though.”
Arilyn clapped her hands together. “I’m so excited! Just tell me when and I’ll take you to Animals Alive. They have so many sweet dogs there needing a home.”
Kennedy rolled her eyes. “Was thinking more of a six-foot-five hunk of a blond keeping her warm at night. Hey, what about Stone’s partner, Devine? He’s single. And H-O-T.”
Izzy spoke up. “Umm, guys—”
“I never thought of Devine!” Kate jumped in. “I can’t believe they still haven’t met. He may be perfect to test the waters, Izzy. He’s good-looking and really nice. Not too nice.”
“The perfect mix of nice,” Kennedy said.
Izzy tried again. “I’m not—”
“I cannot believe I’m saying this, but Devine may be a great match for her,” Arilyn said slowly. “Stone said he’s not seeing anyone right now but has been looking to settle in with someone.”
Izzy gulped. “What?”
“Oh, not marriage or jumping into anything,” Arilyn corrected. “But I think he’s getting tired of endlessly dating and not making a connection. It may be worth a try. I can have Stone bring him by after his shift. Test the chemistry between you.”
“Definitely,” Kennedy said.
“Agreed,” Kate said.
They looked at her in sheer surprise. Izzy shook her head. “I’m sorry, and I’m truly grateful for the love doctors trying to hook me up, but I’m still not ready. I don’t want the pressure.”
Uh-oh. Three women’s gazes echoed a determination she wasn’t used to dealing with. They shared a glance, then nodded in unison.
“We understand,” Arilyn said.
Kennedy held her hands up in surrender. “No problem. We just figured we’d try.”
Kate didn’t say anything.
Suspicion formed, but it wasn’t the time to push. “Kate, I think you forgot that Shelby’s waiting for you.”
Kate clapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh my goodness! Thanks, Izzy—check in with you later.”
She raced away, shutting the door behind her, and Izzy faced the two remaining partners. Originally Genevieve’s close friends, Izzy now felt as if a bond had formed and she was finally able to consider them as more than just her employers. They’d accepted her fully without hesitation and let her prove herself with her work.
Kennedy sighed. “I’m telling you, babe. Devine is divine. You’ll thank me.”
“No, thank you.”
Arilyn laughed at Ken’s disappointment. “Give her time. I believe in fate and the power of energy guiding us in the right direction. Maybe there’s another way for her to meet someone other than Kinnections, or setting her up with Devine.”
“What’s better than Kinnections?”
“What about Earth Mother?”
Arilyn’s odd response made Kennedy stiffen. Shock gleamed in her whiskey eyes, and suddenly a giant, smug grin curved her lips. “Gotcha. You’re so smart, A.”
Arilyn sighed. “I know. But right now I have to prep for my next session, then get back home to feed Pinky. See you guys later.”
Izzy said good-bye, turning toward Kennedy for answers. “Okay, what’s going on? Who’s Earth Mother?”
Kennedy practically oozed fake innocence. “Oh, never mind. It’s nothing. I have to go, too. See ya.”
She shot out of Kinnections, leaving Izzy more confused and a tad bit curious. She should’ve known these three would be obsessed with hooking her up. Not only did they run a matchmaking agency, but they were all happily involved with gorgeous men who were also kind. Did they even make such combinations in the male species anymore?
The phone rang, the doorbell chirped, and Izzy pushed the thought out of her mind, focusing on work.
Jennifer Probst wrote her first book at twelve years old. She bound it in a folder, read it to her classmates, and hasn’t stopped writing since. She took a short hiatus to get married, get pregnant, buy a house, get pregnant again, pursue a Master’s degree in English literature, and rescue two shelter dogs. Now she is writing again. She is the New York Times, USA TODAY, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of sexy and erotic contemporary romance. She was thrilled her book, The Marriage Bargain spent twenty-six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Her work has been translated in over a dozen countries, sold over a million copies, and was dubbed a “romance phenom” by Kirkus Reviews. She makes her home in upstate New York with the whole crew. Her sons keep her active, stressed, joyous, and sad her house will never be truly clean.