Genre = Contemporary Romance, Sweet Romance, Romantic Comedy
LENGTH: 42,000 words, 186 pages
Claire loved a good adventure, but dating at her age was too much of one.
Getting the makeover for her video felt traumatizing rather than adventurous. Sure, it was only hair and one day it would grow back, but the shock of her new short haircut had yet to fade. Luckily, Claire was a survivor. She would survive seeing a stranger when she looked in the mirror. Like every other challenge, she’d eventually figure this one out as well.
A failed first marriage and terrible divorce hadn’t broken her. Neither had becoming a widow when she’d allowed herself to try marriage again. However, signing up at The Perfect Date might be the one decision that ruined her love life permanently. Her very first date is causing nothing but problems.
Grace is super mad at her, but it’s not like she planned for the infamous Bart Reynolds to appear on her dating list. Her infamous, outspoken friend was the one who’d made a crazy bet with her over him. How could Claire resist the challenge of proving Grace wrong about him?
Flirting with a handsome stranger while she waited in the bar for her rude date was totally out of character for her. Finding out that same sexy guy was an intricate part of her unconscionable date’s dating shenanigans? No, she definitely hadn’t seen that coming.
Dating and drama were turning out to be far too synonymous. Her current adventure had blown up around her. Grace and Sydney were never going to stop laughing at the hot mess Claire had gotten herself into.
Read Chapter 1
Luck was not on her side this morning. The universe had dropped her in the seat of the newest stylist in the shop that The Perfect Date used for makeovers.
Brandishing his shiny scissors in the air, gung-ho Larry glanced at the perming and blow-drying going on around him and shook his head. He turned back to look at Claire and let loose a long-suffering sigh.
“If you let me cut it to chin length, I could take at least ten years off your age.”
Claire’s eyes widened at his offer. Cut off her hair? She’d worn it shoulder length since she was in her late thirties. Husband number two always said her long hair made her look younger. And what was wrong with looking older? She was only in her forties. Forty-four didn’t seem all that old to her… not yet, anyway.
“Cut it off,” Grace ordered from her chair, not bothering to look up from the magazine she was perusing. “You’ve worn your hair that length since I met you, Claire. My mother wore that same style until she went bald in her eighties. You do not want to look like my mother at that age—trust me.”
Ignoring Grace, Claire leaned around her now chuckling stylist to see if Sydney was paying attention. But she wasn’t. As was typical these days, Sydney was texting Dylan on her phone. The man barely let Sydney out of her sight, and even when he did, he kept texting her.
“Yes?” Sydney answered as she lowered her phone. “Are we still discussing your hair dilemma? I was listening.”
Claire rolled her eyes as wet strands swiped across her forehead. “Getting a new haircut is not exactly a dilemma.”
Sydney grinned. “You know how I am. I think you should be yourself and wear your hair in any style you want.”
Beside Sydney, Grace made a disgusted face at Sydney before turning to stare at Claire. Grace tucked her hands under her armpits and flapped her arms while making chicken sounds.
Claire glared at Grace’s actions. “You’re supposed to be here to help me. Is this you being helpful?”
Grace laughed at the question and nodded. “Yes, I am. Hair grows out and Larry is right about your style making you look older. Part of that is those incredibly drab highlights you favor. Honestly, if you’re going to go gray—then go gray. But stop with the old lady frosting habit. The Perfect Date is picking up the tab for this redo. Lose a few inches of hair and get some low lights.”
Larry laid down his wide-toothed styling comb and whipped his phone from the back pocket of his tight jeans. He flipped through some screens until, finally, he held up a photo for Claire to see.
“This is before…” he said with a grin, showing her a woman with brownish hair her exact length.
He flicked it once more. “This is after,” he announced with obvious pride.
Impressed, Claire took the phone from him and studied the woman closely. She went back to see the previous photo and then came forward again. “She looks a lot better.”
Larry nodded as he slipped the phone from her fingers. “And so will you. Trust me.”
Claire sighed in defeat as she gripped the arms of her chair. “Fine. Do what you want,” she commanded, closing her eyes tight as she fought not to scream in frustration. She didn’t hate change… or getting a different haircut. She just hated people informing her she’d been wrong for so many years.
“So do you want the low lights too?” Larry asked.
“Yes,” Sydney and Grace answered together before laughing.
Claire snorted as her eyes popped open. “Fine. Do the low lights too. Do whatever you want.”
“You won’t be sorry,” Larry promised before he chuckled at his complete success.
Claire swallowed hard as he picked up his shears of hair destruction. Determined to stay strong, she only flinched a little as long strands of frosted hair fell from one side of her head.
Claire closed her eyes and prayed this wouldn’t be one of those life decisions she immediately regretted once the deed was done.
Joining The Perfect Date was supposed to be her big chance at a dating comeback. She had way bigger decisions waiting to be made, far bigger than whether or not to get a simple haircut. For starters, both men she’d married had been much older than her. She wouldn’t call it a preference, but all the younger men she’d dated in her twenties had seemed so… juvenile and immature. Even into her thirties, she’d felt that way. Now she was older. Was she supposed to date men in their sixties and seventies? Wasn’t that just asking to be widowed again before she reached their age?
Her second marriage had been a good one, but only a few years into it she’d lost her husband to unexpected heart problems. She didn’t regret that marriage at all, not even when she’d ended up in a caretaking role. Love meant you did what was needed. Or that’s what Claire believed. Her only regret was not nagging him to take better care of himself.
No, it was the first man she married that Claire regretted. Not having any brutally honest friends back then, Claire ignored the few friends she had who had tried to warn her. She ignored them even when her instincts screamed that they were speaking the truth.
Why had she done that? She’d asked herself that question for years. Finally, she’d concluded that she did it because she’d been closing in on thirty and not a single other man had asked to marry her. It had taken the rest of her demeaning marriage to figure out she’d wanted the marriage more than she wanted the man.
More than a decade later, her divorce still rocked her. In the years she’d stuck out her first marriage, Claire discovered her successful older husband had his own reasons for pursuing their marriage. He’d wanted a trophy wife taking care of everything at home, which included keeping tabs on his high school-age children. Her easy-going, naïve nature back then must have seemed heaven sent because she truly hadn’t minded the mothering. His mistake was in thinking he’d also found a complacent woman who’d put up with his serial cheating.
Despite Claire already being over twenty years her husband’s junior, his barely adult daughter had intervened when he’d started a relationship with someone literally twenty-years-old. Because his naïve paramour wasn’t twenty-one, her parents had gotten involved in the whole sordid situation.
What a hot mess scandal that whole thing had been. Claire found herself mortified to find herself both blamed and pitied.
Being so naïve, she hadn’t thought to protect herself or her finances—not that she had accumulated much to protect at that point of her life. The first thing her husband demanded was that she quit working to be at his beck and call. He gave her an allowance for her upkeep and personal needs, but it had taken all of that to meet his high standards.
They’d divorced soon after the scandal hit. She’d left primarily because of the ick factor. Thankfully her attorney had found a better way to list her reasons for leaving. With her divorce settlement she’d paid for half of the modest house she’d bought in a decent neighborhood. The small mortgage had allowed her to support herself.
With no one in her life to judge her decisions, she kept in touch with the stepdaughter her ex had embarrassed and his angry son. Those first two stepchildren were now married and their children called her grandma. She’d come out of that toxic first marriage much wiser. Or that was what she told herself.
In her mind, family included the people who loved and cherished you—blood-related or not. She was not close to her blood family. Her home life as a child hadn’t been the best. She’d left as soon as possible and never gone back. Her stepchildren visited regularly. She spent holidays with them.
Eventually, she’d healed enough from the divorce to date again. When she met her second husband, she’d insisted he move out of his rental and into her modest house. Maybe keeping it gave her the illusion of having more control over her fate, especially since she’d once again chosen someone much older than her. The prenuptial agreement she’d drawn up for her remarriage stated clearly that if a divorce were to happen, the house would remain her sole property.
But there had been no divorce. Her second husband died unexpectedly. Marriage number two was over in what now seemed to be only a blink of time in her life. Two out of the three stepchildren she’d gained from him still visited her. She’d wrapped herself in their need for support and used it as a reason to go on.
That was her biggest life lesson to date. Being widowed convinced Claire that no one ever really had full control over their life. Or at least, not with anything that mattered. You lived as good as you could did your best to be happy and tried to keep mistakes like her first marriage from happening again.
Possessions and money had so little to do with happiness. Friends and family were what mattered. Lovers were a gift if you could find good ones.
Divorcing her first husband hadn’t gotten Claire down but being widowed had taken her under emotionally. She floundered for half year unable to work much or find a new normal.
But then Grace had crossed her path. Grace Ward-Adams—changer of lives.
Meeting Grace also brought Sydney into Claire’s life. Never in Claire’s wildest dreams would she have imagined herself being friends with a verified genius. Now she was friends with two, though she and Grace were hard-pressed to see Dylan’s alleged brilliance. The man was insanely beautiful and desperately friendly, but also a whole different kind of odd. Sydney certainly had her hands full dealing with someone who adored the very air she breathed. Sydney’s genius matched his, but outside of the mega mansion, their intelligence only came up when either Sydney or Dylan won yet another award.
Not that Grace wasn’t a genius in her own right. They’d met in a grief therapy session. Everyone else in the group had kept their distance from Grace and her ominous gloom. The intimidation got compounded with Grace being openly fierce about her ex, blunt spoken about herself, and wealthy enough to feel she deserved to seek vindication in whatever form it took.
Claire had liked her instantly.
Since they met, Grace made her do many, many outrageously bold things. Getting a hairstyle after a decade of wearing the same one was only a tame example. Brilliant with finances, Grace had taken it upon herself to teach Claire a form of survival exceeding what life had taught her. Claire’s investment portfolio thanked her every day for following Grace’s advice.
But she was not a genius… nor wealthy despite Grace’s tutelage. What she gave back to both Grace and Sydney was unconditional acceptance, moral support, and encouragement. She had been a compassionate, loyal friend.
Though it was a fact that no one would call Claire lucky in love, she had been extremely lucky in making friends.
Or at least she’d felt that way until she caught sight of her short, wet strands in the mirror of Larry’s cutting station. She completely intended to blame both Grace and Sydney if her hair ended up looking hideous.
Read Chapter 2
With Grace and Sydney’s gushing praise of her new look boosting her, Claire ignored her urge to run and bravely climbed out of Grace’s car in front of The Perfect Date’s building. After uttering a promise to find herself a ride to meet them for early happy hour drinks at three, she went inside to do what had to be done.
Iris lifted her head from her work and gave her a bright, welcoming smile. “Hello. Are you here for an appointment?”
Claire tilted her head to the side. “My video is scheduled for this afternoon.”
Iris made a face and spun in her chair to check the calendar program. “Oh dear, I hope not. I have someone else scheduled after lunch. She should be here any moment. If you give me your name, I’ll check to see where the mix-up is. We’ve been very busy lately, and we do occasionally get our schedules crossed.”
“Iris…” Claire chuckled over having to interrupt. “Am I truly that unrecognizable?”
Iris spun back to give her a startled look. The Perfect Date’s receptionist slash assistant slash budding videographer stared for a while before her forehead wrinkled.
“Claire?” Iris hesitantly guessed.
Claire laughed aloud. “It’s too much, isn’t it? I let the stylist talk me into getting this drastic haircut.”
Iris blinked as she slowly shook her head. “Wow.”
Biting her lip, Claire felt her eyes widen with nerves. “I’m not sure how to take that exclamation.”
Iris stood and shook her head. “Claire, I can honestly say that in my tenure here I have never seen a makeover quite as dramatic as yours. You look… um…”
Claire groaned through another laugh. “Like a nearly forty-five-year woman trying desperately to look twenty again?”
Iris snorted and shook her head. “No. You look like your fairy godmother granted your wish to become a beautiful princess. You look amazing.”
Her face heated. “It’s just a new haircut.”
Iris laughed. “It’s more than that. You liberated your face. And all those hair accents do amazing things for your eyes.”
“I guess Larry was right then,” Claire said with a relieved sigh.
Iris giggled. “Yes, he was, and don’t let Mo and Curly tell you any differently.”
“Who?” Claire asked with a chuckle.
Iris waved a hand. “Don’t mind me. Lincoln and I dipped into old comedy shows on our rental service. We’re not ones much for watching the telly for entertainment, but we indulge on rainy weekends.”
“Sound nice,” Claire said, hearing the wistfulness in her voice. “It’s been a long time since I had anyone to watch television with me.”
Iris giggled. “Well, lucky you for coming to the right place. We fix that for people like you all the time. With that new look of yours, fixing you up will be easy peasy as Dr. Livingston likes to say.”
Claire wasn’t nearly as optimistic, but admitting it would foolish given she already paid for their help.“Will Della be my dating counselor?”
Iris smiled as she nodded. “That’s my understanding. You’ll be in expert hands because I can personally vouch for Della’s matchmaking skills. She’s the reason Lincoln and I are together.”
“I know Grace enjoyed working with her. She said Della was sharp for someone so young.”
“She’s wise beyond her years. Lincoln and I were an unusual pairing and one quite outside the norm here. We wouldn’t have happened at all if Della hadn’t helped my handsome husband find a way to woo me. As a down-on-her-luck Brit working two jobs to buy herself a ticket back home, I really didn’t feel like I was in Lincoln’s dating league, if you get my meaning.”
Sighing, Claire nodded. “Thinking about all the people in your database who are wealthier than I will ever be makes me feel like that. I’m only joining because Grace and Sydney insisted. I tried online dating for a year or so and didn’t like it. Then again, I’m too old to hang out in bars hoping fate steps in and drops the perfect man into my lap.”
Iris shrugged. “I used to work in bars back home in England. There are many good men to be found in bars, but some there are not truly single. Online dating is as sketchy there as it is over here in the states. The Perfect Date weeds through the liars, braggarts, and bad blokes much faster than a woman could do on her own.”
Claire took her leather cross-body purse and set it on a nearby table in the room Iris led her into. Iris hadn’t worked here when she’d looked into The Perfect Date’s reputation before buying that membership for Sydney.
Actually, it had been Grace who’d suggested they find a way to lure Sydney into dating after her divorce, but Claire had been the one to look into the matter. The Perfect Date had the best reputation and also the highest fees.
Now both of her closest friends had found genuine love because of this dating agency. Maybe The Perfect Date could pull off a miracle for her as well.
Love was probably not going to happen for her with any of The Perfect Date’s clients. But Grace had found love again, which had been the most shocking thing about this place.
Claire long ago decided that she was simply not the ‘fall in love’ type. She entered both her relationships clear-eyed and realistic about the amount of happiness she might find. She couldn’t even imagine what pining for one certain man felt like. She’d never felt that way, not even with her first crush in high school.
Sighing over her depressing thoughts, Claire looked at Iris who gestured to the chair positioned on one side of the room against the wall.
“Sit sideways, please, and put your feet on one set of those marks. Turn your head toward the camera, and then we’ll check to see which profile suits you best. Della says I’m brilliant when it comes to picking a person’s best side.”
Iris bent over the camera checking it to be sure it was on and ready to record. While she watched Iris, Claire looked around and tried to mentally prepare herself.
“I’m so nervous I’ve probably chewed off all my lipstick. Should I put more on before we start?”
Iris raised her head and looked Claire over. “Honestly? I wouldn’t change a single thing—seriously, not one thing. You look incredible, Claire. I’m going to take a few still photos and send them to you. This new look is fab.”
Compliments about her appearance didn’t happen often enough in Claire’s life for her to handle them well. Blowing out to release her stress at what she was about to do, Claire finally sat down.
She straightened her back and pushed out her chest to lift her cleavage. Grace warned her not to slump so her breast wouldn’t look droopy. Now she was self-conscious about her body squished into a too-small dress and paranoid about her boobs drooping. The dress the image consultant picked out molded to her mature woman’s body a little more snuggly than she normally allowed.
“We’ll start with your deets, Claire, and then I’ll ask you a few questions.”
Claire blinked at the camera. “My deets?”
Iris giggled. “Sorry. I meant your ‘details’ like name, age, and so forth. I’ve been spending too much time with people a decade younger than me. They all seem to talk in shorthand. I admit I’ve wondered if people under thirty feel like they haven’t enough time to communicate in whole words and sentences.”
Claire blinked at the revelation but was too nervous to laugh. She pulled in a deep breath and began. “My name is Claire Hempstead. I’m forty-four—nearly forty-five—and a widow of several years. I’ve also been divorced once. I work primarily as a virtual executive assistant for a non-profit, and I also have several other clients. Occasionally, I arrange large events, such as fundraisers. When I’m not working, I like to read, bake, and go on adventures.”
Iris lifted her head. “Adventures? What kind of adventures? Talk about that more.”
Claire lifted one shoulder and let it fall. “It sounds like I’m an adrenaline junkie, but I’m not. For me, adventures can be anything. They can be as small as discovering a new city park to explore. They can be as large as learning to sail a boat.”
“Do you like to go sailing?” Iris asked.
Claire chuckled. “I did once upon a time. Sadly, sailing lost its appeal after I fell overboard and had to be fished out of a lake. My first husband loved sailing and owned two boats. My second husband preferred to stay on dry land, which didn’t bother me in the least.”
“Let’s set your former husbands aside. What kind of adventures do you prefer?”
Claire grinned and glanced up at the ceiling as she answered. “Oh, I like all kinds of experiences. Sometimes I even like doing mildly dangerous things. When I was much younger, I tried skydiving and mountain climbing.”
Iris lifted her head and stared. “Skydiving and mountain climbing?”
Nodding her head, Claire forgot to sit straight. Instead, she leaned toward the camera and smiled. “They were fun activities when I did them, but I wouldn’t do those particular things again. Perhaps this doesn’t speak well of my character, but I find doing something once is usually enough to satisfy my need for excitement.”
“Can you tell us about your current adventure?”
“That would be coming here to do this video. This is way outside my comfort zone even though you require it for your process of matching me with dates.”
Iris lifted her head and chuckled. “The video is like a first glimpse. Do you seek out your adventures? Or let them find you?”
Claire leaned back and resumed posing. “I travel to strange places in order to meet new people. I’m working to be completely present in the now. I’ve mostly had my adventures alone, even though I have several amazing friends who might share them with me if I ever asked. I enjoy being independent and feeling capable of going it alone. Does that make any sense?”
Iris smiled and nodded. “Yes. That makes perfect sense. Can you describe your perfect date?”
Claire smiled and ducked her chin as she laughed. “My perfect date would be any activity that allowed me to see the truth of my date’s personality and character. If we aren’t compatible, I would prefer to decide that quickly and move on. I don’t want to waste my time or his.”
“I see,” Iris said, chuckling a little. “You probably prefer to be surprised by a date rather than do something predictable.”
Claire tilted her head as she thought about it. Finally, she shrugged. “If we’re talking about being surprised by attraction, I never expect fireworks to erupt instantly. I’m not sure how comfortable I would be if they did. Some people prioritize chemistry in a relationship, but I’ve never done that. My romantic soul looks for stability rather than passion.”
She waved a hand at how dull and passionless she sounded. “Maybe that makes me sound like I hate sex and intimacy, which is definitely not the case. I simply want real caring from the man who shares my bed. Maybe admitting that both my husbands were much older than me explains me best. I don’t have patience for head games, romantic politics, or the machinations of men used to playing them.”
Iris squinted one eye and studied the ceiling for a moment. Claire nearly laughed. Had she stumped her videographer with her attitude and remarks?
Sighing, Iris lifted a hand. “Sorry. I’m trying to think of how to ask my next question in the politest manner I can.”
Claire laughed for real at that comment. “You know how blunt my best friends are. Why should you bother being careful? Just say it.”
Iris chuckled. “I need to ask about your age preferences. Our clients tend to like that information up front. Are you looking for older men this time around as well?”
Claire pressed her lips into a line and shook her head. “I’m not looking for anyone to marry and age hasn’t really come up in my thinking. For me, dating is about seeing what might happen between us. I’m quite happy in my single life, but I would like someone to occasionally go on an adventure with. Dating seems to be the best way to look for that person.”
“Excellent summary,” Iris said. “Next is the part where you get to issue an additional warning if you have one. Have you got anything more to add to your video?”
Remembering Grace’s and Sydney’s last cautions, Claire laughed with genuine humor and shook her head. “I prefer to leave a little something to learn during my dates.”
Iris laughed. “I admire a woman willing to face her destiny with a confident smile on her face.”
Claire giggled as she stood and pointed at her mouth. “This is a smile of relief, Iris. I’m glad this is over.”
Iris held up a cautionary finger. “Or maybe it’s just beginning. You strike me as a glass-half-full person, Claire Hempstead. Don’t dash my hopes for your smashing success.”
Claire giggled again because “smashing” might be the perfect word to describe the next three months of her life.
Read Chapter 3
Claire sat in the office flipping through the five men who’d been willing to pay The Perfect Date’s outrageous match fee for the chance to have dinner with her.
Claire had no illusions about her appeal. She didn’t have mile-long legs like Sydney. Nor did she possess a witty personality like Grace. The men who had shown an interest in her, with the exception of one who could pass for her son, looked like the typical men she’d dated in her life up to that point.
It was hard to be excited. She flipped through their photos again and tried not to feel let down.
“Who’s the man-child, Della? He looks like he’s in his twenties,” Claire asked.
Della chuckled and grinned. “Justin’s a thirty-four-year-old gaming engineer, who is only a decade younger than you. I sent him your video link as soon as it was available. He answered within minutes. You’re the first date he’s asked for in months.”
Claire studied his handsome face. Thirty-four wasn’t twenty, but when he married one day he would want to have children. Her ovaries still technically worked, but menopause was just around the corner. The idea of getting pregnant at her age did not appeal to her.
No matter what Sydney had shared about her younger lover, an orgasm was an orgasm in Claire’s book. Her uterus hurt just thinking about dealing with Justin’s expectations. Though she knew he didn’t have the future in mind, she could fast forward and see all the trials.
Or worse… he could be looking to be mothered. She understood that was possible because with her first husband she’d been looking for a father figure.
“What are these older guys like?” Claire asked.
“They will show you a good time. The three in their mid-fifties are divorced friends of the client who married Mariah’s mother.”
Claire’s eyebrow raised as she grinned. “I know the client you’re referring to. Are they as rich as Dr. Colombo?”
“Probably close,” Della said. “Are you looking for someone wealthy?”
Claire chuckled. “No, but it lessens my guilt over the price they’re willing to pay to have dinner with me.”
Della grinned at her. “Our matches are worth every penny. I’m not just saying that.”
Claire lifted a shoulder. “Sydney and Grace certainly would agree with you.”
Della leaned on her desk. “You are the second most cynical client I’ve ever worked with. But that’s okay. I enjoy a challenge.”
“I’m not cynical. I’m an optimistic realist,” Claire said with her smile still in place.
Della laughed as she shook her head. “You might be optimistic about the weather, but I don’t think you are about finding love again.”
“Or even about finding it at all,” Claire decided. “That’s where the realist part kicks in. Not everyone gets a sparkly-eyed happy-ever-after. I don’t have to worry, though, because I’m not even looking for one.”
Della mock-growled. “You’re on the verge of moving into my most cynical woman top spot. Why is it always the women who doubt? Our male clients make a wish list of what they want and nag us to find beautiful women who are perfect for them. Women shrug off their wish list and barely offer a couple of deal breakers. Few women come to us believing we can deliver their perfect man.”
Laughing at Della’s protests, Claire flipped to the oldest man in her group. In his mid-sixties, Bart Reynolds was very handsome and had a friendly smile. He also had a history with Claire that he had no idea about yet. Dating Bart potentially could make Claire ten thousand dollars wealthier—if Grace paid up.
Bart being on her list had to be fate.
Claire adopted her most innocent expression as she held the screen up for Della to see. It would interesting to learn why Bart was in The Perfect Date’s database.
“What’s this one’s story, Della?”
Della glanced at him and looked off. She was quiet for so long that Claire knew her dating counselor was searching for the right words to use when talking about Bart. Grace could have lent her a few thousand, but she would never say that to Della.
Really, though, weren’t most men alike in fundamental ways? They saw themselves as studly bucks who needed to cull the herd a few dozen times before selecting the perfect gazelle. Bart had unknowingly culled Claire long ago. Maybe it was her turn. He’d put himself on her list.
“Bart Reynolds reminds me of my first husband who liked to date twenty-year-olds behind my back. He’s too well-known in Cincinnati for me not to recognize him, but I don’t want you to think I’m close-minded. I’d rather hear what you have to say.”
When Della cleared her throat a few times, Claire nearly laughed. Had a question about Bart really rendered her speechless?
“Mariah and I find it best not to discuss potential dates in too great a detail. Dylan and Sydney are a good example of why maintaining everyone’s privacy is important. I’m not trying to dodge your question.”
“Of course not.”
Della lifted both her shoulders and let them fall. “Bart doesn’t date twenty-year-olds. He dates women in the thirty-five and up range. We’ve even found several women in their fifties for him. Age doesn’t seem to be a deciding factor for his choices. He likes beautiful women and spends a lot of time dating women from our database.”
“Sounds like Bart is the perfect client,” Claire said, inwardly smirking at Della’s pained expression.
Her dating counselor’s chagrin fascinated her as much as discovering Bart in her list of interested men. What she knew about the man had come from Grace’s unflattering opinion of him. Finding out the truth might be a worthy adventure.
Della stared for a few moments before leaning on her desk. “I’m going to be blunt with you, Claire. Bart may be on your list, but he’s not the best match for you. Even if he is your preferred type of man in terms of looks and age, read his reviews before agreeing to date him.”
“Why? Is he a player?”
Della shook her head. “No, I wouldn’t use that term. Bart is very charming but also very busy. Work seems to be his first priority, a reality to which his multiple ex-wives attest. Do your research before you choose him.”
Claire covered her mouth with her hand to hide her smile.
Della went on. “On the plus side, most of Bart’s dates say he’s generous with his wealth and doesn’t mind spending it to show them a good time. He’s also every bit as handsome as he looks in his photo.”
“How many of his wives were clients of The Perfect Date?”
Della shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t share that with you.”
Leaning forward in the chair, Claire felt her eyebrows shoot up. She wasn’t dumb. Della’s lack of revelation was a revelation. Some number of his wives had been clients. Even one meant Bart was using the database to fish for women. “Are you suggesting I should pick one of the other men to date?”
“No. You should pick the man that most interests you. But I’ve told you all I can about Bart.”
Claire leaned back in her chair and chuckled. “This may sound odd, but I see Bart Reynolds as my safest option.”
“Why? Do you think you’re immune to older men?”
Shrugging at the question, Claire put the tablet on Della’s desk. “I’d like to think I am, but I don’t know. I left my first husband because my stepchildren insisted, not because he’d cheated. It may not speak well of my character, but I wasn’t invested enough in my first marriage to divorce for infidelity.”
Della picked up the tablet. “So, what do you want from a man, Claire?”
Claire giggled. “I have no idea, but curiosity rules me right now.” She waved at Della. “Not because of what you shared… or anything I’ve heard. I wonder if I’ve changed enough to be able to handle a man like Bart Reynolds.”
“I see. So you’re into torture then?” Della asked.
Claire grinned. “Grace and Sydney might say that about me. I prefer to think of myself as open-minded… and free-spirited.”
Della laughed. “Sydney is open-minded and Grace is free-spirited. You require a more interesting description.”
Claire giggled. “Really? Like what?”
“You’re cynically bold and far more hopeful than you want people to know,” Della announced. “I’ll tell Bart you’re interested. He’ll be ecstatic and probably want your date to happen this week. While you’re waiting, please pick one or two more guys from the list.”
Nodding, Claire gathered her things and headed out the door. Her phone dinged to let her know her ride was outside, so she waved at Iris and left.
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