Note: This excerpt is unedited and still subject to change. I just wanted to give you a sample of the new series. These stories will be slightly shorter reads than my longer romantic comedies. The muse is still out about how long they will be.
Next month, I’ll likely send out a link to another chapter or two. Hope you enjoy this first little peek.
The wooden gavel hit the block in front of her. “I’ve already gone over the prosecutor’s report. I’ll hear from Ms. Bates’s Attorney now.”
“Your Honor—not to denigrate the fine work done by other detectives in our local police precincts, the charges being brought against by client by her ex-husband, Detective Luray, are not backed by anything of substance. Dating services are a dime a dozen these days… no offense to my client… but I’m having a hard time figuring out the grounds for the illegal solicitation charge the prosecuting attorney’s office is attempting to press.”
Mariah saw the judge look past her attorney to her. She was frowning and all but glaring. Dan had wanted her to suffer for divorcing him and it looked as if he was actually going to get his way.
“Thank you, Counselor. Now I believe I’d like to hear your client’s own defense of the charges against her,” the judge declared.
“Yes, Your Honor.” Bill leaned in. “Tell her your story, Mariah.”
Mariah stood. “Your Honor, my name is Dr. Mariah Bates. I have a PhD in Psychology from Johns Hopkins. I am a licensed and certified marriage and relationship therapist. For over twenty years, I did a call-in radio show helping people get help for their relationship issues. Now my primary business is an elite, professional dating service that is really more like a matchmatching service for busy professionals. We’re a bit like Kellerher International which is widely known, and as far as I know, quite well respected.”
“If I might interject…” the prosecutor said loudly. “Dr. Bates’s business does not offer access to a dating database of potential matches nor does she offer anyone a phone app as do most services of her kind. Nothing discovered in her business model indicates she is offering any ongoing match service, but rather she is selling individual time spent with a client to yet another client. It is reasonable to conclude that her business model is a potential cover for nefarious escort activities in the tri-state area.”
Mariah felt her jaw tighten. There had been no discovery at all. No one had subpoenaed her records. No, Dan had given the Hamilton County prosecutor all that misinformation. But who was going to doubt one of Cincinnati’s finest?
“We charge a flat fee per service which translates in most cases to a flat fee per date. The person we find the match for pays the fee, especially if there is a pressing need, such as a business function, wedding, or other social gathering where the client feels it would be best to have a companion at his or her side. We are not following the subscription model because of discretion. This is the same reason we don’t use anything like an app. Our clients are CEOs, local celebrities, sports figures, and have other high profile jobs. We work to protect the privacy of every client we help.”
She turned her head to the man seated several rows behind her wearing a very expensive suit she’d bought for him five years ago. It was easier today to ignore how good Dan looked in it. Her bitterness over his actions had torn away the rose colored glasses she normally viewed him through.
“As I have repeatedly told my ex-husband, Detective Daniel Luray, the way I bill is not proof of solicitation. Instead, it provides me a reasonable cash flow to continue serving my clients. Fostering twenty-two weddings among clients last year could be used as proof of my matchmaking success, if such proof is necessary. My clients are business people who would not appreciate their carefully selected date being called a “escort” for no good reason other than Detective Luray’s unfounded suspicions or his desire to get back at me for having had the nerve to divorce him.”
The judge looked at the prosecutor. “Is there any real evidence against Dr. Bates’s company? Any client claiming they paid for sex and didn’t get any? Anybody saying they’re being pimped out by Dr. Bates?”
“Not yet, Your Honor, but…”
She didn’t allow the prosecutor to waffle any further. The judge’s gavel hit her wooden block. “Case dismissed due to lack of evidence. Dr. Bates, we are sorry to have wasted your time this morning.”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” Mariah said, breathing out at last.
Bill reached over and hugged her. “You could have mentioned Danielle and I, you know. We’re proof of your success in making matches.”
Mariah shook her head. “Dan’s vendetta against me is no reason to drag my friends down into the mud. It’s bad enough he has me wrestling around with him in it.”
She gathered up her things and moved to walk out. Bill walked closely behind. She should have guessed it wasn’t going to be that easy.
“One day I will get what I need for evidence, Mariah. I’m going to be watching your ass very closely,” Dan warned as she walked by him.
“Great. Kiss my ass while you’re back there nosing around,” Mariah ordered, striding away from the man she had once loved, but now loathed.
Behind her, she heard Bill say something to Dan, but it was probably best she not know what passed between the two men. All of her friends had taken her side in the divorce when her long time, nice husband had suddenly turned into an ass just because she quit a lucrative job to start a more risky one. Their loyalty to her had gotten even stronger after the divorce was final and Dan was seen around town with some yet to be named bleached-hair blonde on his arm.
Mariah huffed because crying over the sad state of her love life was out of the question. She was beyond emotional hurt now. That kind of hurt had come when she went off the air and decided to do something different because she needed to feel alive and not just on autopilot. The emotional hurt had come with the thousand arguments she and Dan’d had about their financial inequities and earning power—the net result being a property settlement that left her literally homeless. Dan had come out of the divorce as good as any greedy, manipulating spouse ever could have. She’d come out of it stripped of her wealth and missing most of her dignity.
But the good news for Mariah was that the legal cords were finally all cut. That was what mattered to her these days. Now she could move forward the way she needed to. She’d been like a rabid, trapped wolf at the end of her divorce proceedings. She’d been willing to sacrifice an arm, a leg, and the nearly million dollar home she and Dan had bought with her celebrity earnings.
Setting the trumped up criminal charges she’d just faced aside, Mariah actually thought she had escaped. Unfortunately, Dan continued to be there on the edges of her life—still poking and prodding at a decision he thought he had some right to have an opinion about.
Why did he bother with trying to hurt her? She’d already given him the lion’s share of their possessions and half of her savings. Her mind kept churning on the issue, but the truth was unknowable. When your once loving husband became a greedy, spiteful bastard, there was no more pretending you understood anything about him.
There was only one thing Mariah knew for certain these days. Divorcing Dan had put her off all men for good long while. She could only hope her own sad relationship story wasn’t going to be bad for her matchmaking business.
Mariah lifted her head from her laptop to look at her assistant. Dr. Della Livingston, her multi-tasking miracle who worked for peanuts while she pursued the rest of her fancy PhD, looked ready to have a meltdown.
“What’s wrong, Della?”
“I know you just got back from court, but there’s a Detective Monroe out here asking to see you. He says he was referred.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake. I’ve had enough of this,” Mariah said, rising from her chair. She straightened her now super snug pencil skirt back down over her hips. Both pieces of her favorite suit had gotten tight in the last couple of years, but it was still the best one she owned. That was why she’d worn it to court. The light shade of rose flattered her complexion without looking too feminine.
Mariah marched out to the door of her office, and past a still cringing Della, until she was standing in front of the seated man. She glared down at him. “What the hell can I do for you, Detective Monroe?”
To her annoyance, the man’s face blushed crimson. His gray eyes briefly dropped down to her legs, but they didn’t linger long. Good thing too. With that much gray at his temples he damn well ought to know better.
“Is that how you typically greet your clients?” he managed to choke out.
“No,” Mariah declared. “It’s how I greet asshole buddies of my detective ex-husband who think they’re going to come around here and dig into my business for no damn good reason. The charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. You’ve got a lot of damn nerve showing up today.”
“Uh… that’s not why I came,” he stammered out. “Who’s your detective ex?”
“Don’t waste my time with inane questions,” Mariah ordered.
She watched him reach up and run a nervous hand through his perfectly cut hair. Had the man really believed she’d accept his lame story? It would be just like Dan to plant someone here to spy for him. The man cleared his throat and stood, towering above her by a good foot or more even in her heels. Her gaze traveled up to his now pained-filled gray eyes. She glared until he finally looked away from her.
“I think I made a mistake in coming here. Elliston said you were… doesn’t matter. Sorry to have bothered you.”
“McElroy,” he said tightly. “Geeky nephew of mine. Said you were fixing him up with the perfect woman.”
Hands that had been fisted on her hips dropped to her side. “I will neither confirm nor deny to you that anyone is or is not a client of my business. Privacy is not just a buzz word I throw around. However, I appreciate all referrals. If this was a honest one, I’m sorry for jumping to wrong conclusions.”
“Bad day?” he asked.
Mariah nodded. Why not confess? If he wasn’t lying to her, then he deserved an explanation. “I had to go to court this morning. It left me a little less trusting of anyone with the first name of Detective.”
“I caught the gist of that in your greeting. Ex causing you problems?”
“Let’s just say I’m not at my best today so this unfruitful conversation needs to end quickly.”
His almost bashful smile over her defensiveness did strange things to her insides. What she felt in the lower regions of her body made her mad at herself. However, if the man truly was Elliston McElroy’s uncle, she needed to be polite.
“Let’s start again.” Mariah put out a hand to shake. “I’m Dr. Mariah Bates—the owner, CEO, and general doer of every role here at The Perfect Date.”
He stared at her extended hand for a split second longer than proper, then swallowed it with his own. He didn’t shake her hand so much as just hold it for a moment. Mariah had to stop herself from wiping her hand on her skirt when he finally let go.
“What can I do for you, Detective?”
“First name’s actually John—not Detective,” he said, correcting her. “And I’m thinking coming here really wasn’t the best idea. Can we just pretend I wasn’t here at all?”
Mariah rolled her eyes and drew in a breath. “Look, Detective Monroe…”
“John…” he corrected again.
Mariah sighed. “Look, John… normally I’d sit out here and talk you into feeling a certain comfort level before coaxing you into my office for a more private chat. Seeing as how I’ve already yelled at you and accused you of many things you profess to be innocent of…”
Mariah held a hand up. “No, no. That’s quite okay. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But I don’t want you to dash away and tell the person who referred you to me that I was blatantly… unkind. I normally am not unkind. I’m normally quite pleasant and supportive.”
Mariah fought back a sigh when his grin made a single dimple appear on one side of his face. His gray eyes lit with amusement.
“Unkind? Is that a new way of saying you tried to hand me my balls over something some other guy did to you?”
“You’re a very wise man for understanding. Please accept that this was a rare, rare day in my otherwise drama-free life,” Mariah answered.
“I will never tell anyone you were unkind to me,” John promised softly, grinning still.
“Good. I wish you’d change your mind then. If you stay and talk, I promise to do my best to find your perfect date for you.”
Head down and grinning even wider, John shook his head as he walked to the door. He raised his gaze to meet hers. “I bet you could find her easier than you know. Good day, Dr. Bates. Maybe we’ll run into each other again. Maybe I’ll find my balls and come back. Anything is possible.”
Mariah chuckled at his sincere tone and felt her face heat. Lord, what had she done now? “I’ll be gentle with you next time,” she promised, shocked to hear the flirty statement escape her mouth.
Laughing for real, John exited. Mariah turned to go to her office but stopped when she saw Della still staring at the door.
“What are you pondering, Dr. Livingston? The fact that I screwed up with a potential client or the fact that I just went nova on a man in front of you?”
Della shook her head. “Actually, I was wondering how in the space of about five minutes you went from yelling at Detective Monroe to flirting with him. Also, I’m 99.9% confident he started the flirting exchange. I feel like I should be taking notes.”
Mariah waved a hand. “That’s was just two mistakes clearing up awkwardly. He was never going to let me help him. I’m not sure I could have matched up a still working detective without advising the woman to run away as fast as she could. It’s good that I ran him off because now I don’t have to worry about any conflict of interest due to my bias. I think it was a fairly charming end to a less than charming problem.”
Della chuckled. “I’m pretty sure that was the beginning of something not any kind of end.”
Rolling her eyes at her young assistant’s dreamy gaze, Mariah headed back to her office.