I’m short, I’m balding, and I’ve put on twenty pounds since my fiancée left me for her personal trainer. You’re my last hope for love.”
Lara Madigan froze in the drugstore parking lot, one hand on the door handle of her Oldsmobile station wagon. She didn’t recognize the wheezy male voice behind her and so she hoped, for a moment, that perhaps he was addressing someone else.
But the guy made a deep, phlegmy noise in his throat and persisted: “You’re the matchmaker, right?”
Lara turned around slowly, pulling up the collar of her coat to shield her neck from the chilly winter wind. “Yes, I am. Pleased to meet you.” She offered her right hand, and the man grabbed it like a lifeguard’s buoy, both of his sweaty palms engulfing her fingers.
“Peter Hoffstead. You have to help me.” He tightened his grip. “I’m desperate.”
Lara’s mind automatically whirred into assessment mode. The first thing she noticed about Peter was that his outfit didn’t match his personality. Though his complexion looked pasty and his remaining hair was graying, he was attired in visible designer labels: Cartier watch, Rock & Republic jeans, Burberry belt. From the neck up, he was Bill Gates, but from the neck down, he was P. Diddy. Someone else had clearly picked out his wardrobe— someone who wanted him to be more of a debonair playboy and less of a middle-aged homebody.
She gently but firmly pulled away from his grasp and rummaged through her shoulder bag for her business card. As she handed it to him, she cautioned, “I’m always looking for promising prospects, but you have to understand that I can’t match just anyone. All my prospective clients undergo a rigorous screening process, and my standards are very high. I have to consider the long-term happiness of everyone involved.”
“One of your previous clients can vouch for me.” Peter rubbed at his nose with a clean but wrinkled handkerchief. “Mark Heston— he’s my neighbor. He said you hooked him up with Amelia.” “Amelia!” Lara softened at the name. “What a sweetheart. How’s she doing these days?” Peter shrugged. “Great, I guess. Mark never shuts up about her. I need you to do for me what you did for him.” He stuffed his hand into the pocket of his black leather jacket and offered up a stack of cash. “I’ll pay whatever you ask. I’ll double your usual fee.”
Lara made no move to accept the folded green bills. “What I do isn’t about money. It’s about finding a true soul connection. I want all my pairings to last a lifetime, so I need to figure out exactly what your needs are and who best meets them.”
Peter nodded, and as he stuffed the money back into his pocket, he sighed with resignation. He stopped the posturing and name- dropping and gave her a glimpse of the raw loneliness festering beneath all those designer labels. “Look.” He spread out his hands. “I know I’m not the most appealing guy, physically. My fiancée made that very clear before she left me. But I’ve got a lot to offer: love, stability, all that stuff.”
Lara tilted her head and took in his body language. Years of trial and error had taught her that it didn’t really matter what a prospective client said. People used words to manipulate and evade, to justify their mistakes and prejudices. The truth was in the tone of their voices and the light in their eyes.
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