Love Contract (The Match Broker) (5 page)

BOOK: Love Contract (The Match Broker)
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Chapter 5

N
orma Jean glanced between the two of them. “Here, honey.” She handed her son the bowl of potatoes. “Adrian was just about to tell me how this all came about when you walked in.”

Milán watched Norma Jean push the bowl forcefully at Adrian. She bit back a chuckle.

The bowl connected with his chest. With a questioning glance toward his mother, he took the side dish into the dining room.

When he returned, he was lightly rubbing his chest. “I was telling Dad that I was in the area showing a house to a client.”

“Really?” his mother inquired, sweetly. “Where?”

“Farther down on North Melvina.”

“What a small world,” Norma Jean commented before she left the kitchen and took more food to the table.

The moment Adrian’s mother was gone, Milán rounded on him. “I don’t buy that for a minute.”

He regarded Milán with amusement. “Excuse me?”

“What you told your mother. I don’t believe it.”

Unable to help himself, Adrian moved closer. “First of all, you don’t know me well enough to automatically accuse me of lying.”

Milán snorted loudly. “Don’t I? They say you can tell much about a person’s character in the first few moments of meeting them.”

“So what makes you an expert?”

“Experience. Though, I didn’t heed that advice in my own life until it was too late. The results were disastrous, and something I’m not inclined to repeat.”

“If we’d just met, in addition to you obviously being a poor judge of character,” he countered, “I could say that you’re a, hothead that can’t hold her temper—and a poor kisser.”

A gasp escaped Milán’s lips. “How dare you,” she said indignantly. “You think you can take what you want without consequence and everyone is supposed to fall in line and do your bidding? You’re so conceited it’s appalling.”

With a shrug, Adrian leaned against the sink. “I tend to stray from doing the expected. Tell me, Miss Dixon, why do you think I’m here?”

“What?”

“You don’t believe my explanation, and since you’re an expert, you must have a theory.”

“I hope it’s not one of those dates your mother likes to fix people up on. If it is, she’s wasting her time. I’ve sworn off egotistical men.”

He snickered. “This is hardly a date. If it were, it would be the most hostile one I’ve ever been on.”

“Well then I guess you’re just here to ruin my evening.”

He couldn’t help but smile. “You think I was so unable to resist your alluring personality, I found out you’d be here and rushed right over under the guise of being in the neighborhood?”

The condescending tone in his voice grated on Milán’s nerves. She glared at him. “Yes.”

“Now who’s full of themselves?”

“Normally I’m a very nice person, except when I’m insulted by complete strangers and accosted in their offices.”

His smiled faded. “I didn’t accost you, and I tried to apologize if you recall.”

“You verbally assaulted me, and kissed me without my permission. Then you give me some lame, stammered-over apology and you think I’m supposed to be okay with that? I don’t know what kind of women you’re used to dealing with, Mr. Anderson, but I am not some simpering idiot who can’t see past that insincere smile you pasted on your face.”

“It wasn’t my fault. I thought it...you were a setup. My mother’s always fixing me up. I just assumed you were her latest manipulation. I’m trying to make amends, Miss Dixon, but it’s difficult when you’re not trying to see this for what it was—an honest mistake.”

Milán crossed her arms over her chest. “Both of us being here will be a disaster. I think one of us should leave.”

A lazy smile started at the corner of his mouth. “I guess you could—if I make you that uncomfortable.”

Her eyes darkened. “Nothing you do makes me uncomfortable.”

As if a gauntlet had been tossed, Adrian pushed away from the sink and sauntered toward Milán. He didn’t touch her, but she took a few steps in the opposite direction anyway.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yes.”

Adrian lowered his voice to barely a whisper. “So you haven’t thought about our kiss not once since you left my office?”

Milán paled. “
Your
kiss, Mr. Anderson, not mine and no, I haven’t.”

A smug look crossed his face. “I don’t believe you, Miss Dixon. My guess is you did, and just thinking about it makes you...uncomfortable.”

Her head tilted slightly to the side. “Then you’d be mistaken,” she replied sweetly. “A bruise to that overinflated ego of yours no doubt, but I’m sure you’ll get over it. Besides, I’m not a good kisser, remember?”

Before he could retort, Norma Jean sailed into the kitchen.

Milán wondered if Adrian’s mother was either oblivious, or purposefully ignoring the tension coating the air like melted caramel on an apple.

“I’m thrilled you two are getting along so well,” she commented. “You know, I honestly had my doubts whether you would after Adrian—”

“No point rehashing that again, Mom. I’m sure Milán has forgiven me that minor mix-up.” His eyes held a hint of challenge. “Isn’t that right, Miss Dixon?”

“So, how was your showing?” Milán asked, not bothering to answer his question.

“Great,” he replied, playing along. “The couple seemed very interested. The house is all brick, has upgrades galore and custom hardwood floors with cherry inlays. They’ll probably make an offer.”

“Have we moved dinner in here?” Heathcliffe inquired, coming through the kitchen door.

Norma Jean motioned everyone to the table. Adrian held out his mother’s chair while his father assisted Milán. Minutes later, Heathcliffe was about to say grace when the doorbell rang.

“You expecting anyone else, sweetheart?” he asked his wife.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Adrian rose from his seat. “I’ll get it.”

He excused himself and left the room. When he opened the front door, Justin was standing there.

“Cutting it close, aren’t you?” he whispered.

“In-law insanity,” Justin muttered.

When his wife reached the landing, he put an arm around her waist.

Adrian kissed Sabrina on the cheek. “How are you, Brina?”

Sabrina Ridgemont Langley returned Adrian’s quick peck and followed her husband inside.

“Just fine and you?”

“Never better. We’re just starting dinner.”

“What?” Sabrina’s eyes widened with dismay. “Oh, dear. Justin saw your car and wanted to stop and say hi. We should’ve called first.” She backed up, tugging on her husband’s sleeve as she went. “Give our regards to everyone, okay?”

“He’ll do no such thing,” Norma Jean called from behind Adrian.

“You two lovebirds come right in and join us. We’ve got plenty. I’ve made a roast and my signature mashed potatoes.” She winked at Justin.

“Music to my ears, Ms. Jeanie.”

“If you’re sure—” Sabrina began.

“You know I love company, and this is turning into a real dinner party.”

After everyone was settled, Norma Jean made introductions and then asked Adrian to get two more place settings. He was trying to locate cloth napkins when Milán came in.

“Your mother asked me to get another trivet.”

Adrian retrieved the napkins from an upper cabinet. “Sure,” he told her.

He walked across the room, grabbed one from a drawer and handed it to Milán.

“I was more than capable of getting it.”

“I’m sure you’re very capable in whatever you do,” Adrian drawled.

She rolled her eyes before snatching the trivet from him. Milán started to leave and stopped. A brief expression of uncertainty crossed her face. How the night had unfolded was causing her a moment of suspicion. What had started out as her coming to a casual dinner had turned into an event. Was Jeanie really trying to set her up with Adrian?
No, it couldn’t be,
she told herself dismissively. Her new friend may be a matchmaker, but there was no way she’d ever date a man like her son.

“Are you okay?”

Blinking, Milán realized Adrian was staring at her. She cleared her throat. “Yes, I’m fine,” she assured him. Turning on her heel, she quickly left the room.

* * *

Dinner was lively. Everyone took turns contributing to the conversation.

Milán turned to her hostess. “This is a fabulous meal, Jeanie.”

“She’s outdone herself as usual,” her husband praised.

Sabrina gave Milán a nudge. “Jeanie excels at three things. Cooking, bringing a crowd together and fixing people up.”

Everyone nodded in agreement and the table buzzed anew with comments. Milán observed Adrian being noticeably quiet.

“Oh, don’t mind him,” Justin told her after following her line of sight. “He’s been fixed up more by his mother than he’s sold houses.”

Milán’s gaze returned to her plate.

Adrian rolled his eyes. “Quit exaggerating.”

“I’m just saying.” Justin laughed. “It’s been a lot.”

“An awful lot,” Sabrina chimed in.

“A whole lot.” His dad chuckled getting in on the fun.

Adrian shifted in his seat. “Okay, we get it.”

Milán directed her attention to Justin. “So what you’re saying is none of them were ever a love connection?”

“Oh, there’ve been plenty of love connections,” Heathcliffe alleged. “Just not for Adrian. Isn’t that right, son?”

When she pressed for details, a collective groan went around the table. Milán glanced at Norma Jean with curiosity.

“It’s a long story,” Norma Jean began.

“Mom, do we really need to bore Milán with details?”

She smiled at her son. “We most certainly do.”

Norma Jean recounted how she’d arranged a date with her best friend’s niece, Sabrina, but Adrian stood her up. Justin picked up the story from there.

“So naturally, I couldn’t let him do that,” he said with a laugh.

“Naturally,” Adrian said, drily.

“I went to the restaurant to break the date on his behalf.”

“And before I knew it, he’d assumed Adrian’s identity,” Sabrina added.

“But didn’t you know Justin wasn’t him?” Milán queried.

Sabrina shook her head. “How could I?”

Milán stared at Adrian. “You didn’t contact her before the date? You know, to break the ice?”

Adrian shrugged. “I wasn’t planning on going so there was no point.”

The expression Milán gave him could’ve melted steel. “You should’ve told her the truth and canceled the date like a gentleman.”

The table was silent for a moment before Sabrina said, “It’s amazing everything worked out in the end. Actually, we should thank my ex-boyfriend who happened to show up right then. He was a real jerk.”

Milán’s cool expression settled on Adrian. “Apparently, he wasn’t the only one.”

“Uh, anyway,” Sabrina continued, “he came over and introduced himself.”

Justin turned toward Milán. “I couldn’t tell him my real name before I’d told Sabrina the truth so I told him I was Adrian.”

Milán gasped, waving her hands excitedly. “
¡Oh, Dios mío! ¡Que una aventura!

The table collectively looked from Milán to Adrian and back again. Adrian’s expression was unreadable.

“Perdóname,”
Milán apologized. “I said, what an adventure.”

“It certainly was,” Sabrina agreed. “I didn’t know you were Spanish.”

“I’m not. My mother is Mexican, and my father is African-American. My parents insisted we grow up bilingual.”

“That’s fantastic,” Sabrina replied. “Do you have brothers and sisters?”

“Two sisters, Nyah and Elena. I’m the oldest.”

“It’s great you’re fluent,” Sabrina complimented. “I barely passed French. You know Adrian—”

“Knows all about Milán being bilingual,” he interrupted. “I got a sample of the lovely senorita’s Spanish when we met,” he informed the crowd.

Justin and Sabrina shot glances at Adrian, but he didn’t make eye contact.

“So, what happened next?” Milán inquired, missing the exchange.

“They fell in love and are living happily ever after.” His mother sighed happily.

Adrian stood up and began clearing dishes off the table. “See? It turned out great for everyone. Now who’s up for dessert?”

“You all relax,” Norma Jean told the group. “We’ll be right back.”

Adrian followed her into the kitchen. As soon as they cleared the doorway, Norma Jean punched him. “What are you really doing here?” she demanded.

Chapter 6

“O
uch.” Adrian grabbed his arm. “What was that for?”

“You’re lying.”

Adrian rubbed his arm. “I’m getting really tired of hearing that. I told you. I was in the area, and since when has my showing up out of the blue been a surprise?”

Norma Jean placed her hands on her hips. “Oh, please, you were just here two days ago, Adrian. Like you had no idea we’d invited Milán over tonight for dinner. What kind of game are you playing?”

“None.”

Norma Jean looked skeptical. “I’m your mother, remember? I know when you’re lying to me. If you’re trying to pull the wool over my eyes, you’ll need to do better than this. I mean really, son, this isn’t even original.”

“Okay, detective. Tell me how I’d know Milán was here when I haven’t spoken to you since I left that night?”

“You’re resourceful, you tell me.” Going to the refrigerator, Jeanie retrieved the banana pudding and then the bowls from the cupboard.

Adrian regarded his mother while he gathered spoons from the silverware drawer. “Fine. You don’t believe me, I get it, but Justin and Sabrina dropped in, as well. Are you going to punch them in the arm, too?”

“Don’t be silly,” she chided. “And why are you acting like you don’t speak a lick of Spanish?”

“Hey, she assumes I don’t speak her language so why bother to change her opinion? And what’s with the inquisition?”

“Is that what you think this is?”

“It’s kind of hard not to. Two weeks ago you were trying to get Milán and me together. Now you’re throwing kitchen knives at me with your eyes across the table.”

“I was not,” she protested. “I was trying to help you for work—nothing more. You botched things up so badly when you met, the last thing I want is her thinking I set her up.”

He laughed heartily. “Since when?”

Norma Jean rolled her eyes.

The evening had definitely not gone according to plan. Adrian was used to being the topic of discussion in a crowd, just not in a negative light.

“It’s a moot point anyway,” he reasoned. “Thanks to that roasting I got out there a few minutes ago, Milán probably thinks I’m a jerk.”

Norma Jean’s expression softened immediately. She walked over and touched his arm. “Honey, you know that wasn’t our intent.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” he groused.

“Adrian, at some point you need to realize you’re making a big deal out of nothing.”

He closed the distance between them. Adrian hugged his mother and gave her a peck on the cheek. “That may be true, but now isn’t that time.”

Norma Jean opened her mouth to call after him, but abruptly closed it. A questioning look crossed her face. Suddenly, she laughed aloud. “Fascinating.”

* * *

After dessert, everyone pitched in to clean up. Milán felt right at home rolling up her sleeves and helping out amid a throng of people. Justin and Sabrina took turns discussing past exploits and dating horror stories, prompting Milán to touch on a few debacles of her own ending with Eduardo. She was surprised to find that the sting she felt thinking about their breakup had subsided.

When they were done, the Langleys decided to leave. Milán hugged them both.

“It was great meeting you, and Justin.”

“Likewise,” Sabrina told her.

Adrian walked his friends to the front door. He was about to open it when Sabrina cornered him. “Why did you stop me from telling Milán you speak Spanish?”

“Was that what I did?”

Sabrina’s eyes narrowed. “You know darn well that’s what you did.” She pointed a finger in his chest. “I know you, Adrian. You never do anything without a reason. What are you up to?”

“I’ve heard that a lot this evening.” He bent down and kissed her on the cheek. “I promise you I’m not up to anything.”

“That suave thing doesn’t work on me. I’m not going to go all gaga and forget that you haven’t answered my question,” she informed him.

“No, that only works when I do it.” Justin laughed before gently guiding his wife out the front door.

Sabrina dug her heels in at the threshold. “I mean it, Adrian. You’d better not do something to Jeanie’s new friend that I as a woman might personally take offense to.”

Adrian placed a hand over his heart. “You have my word.”

Before she could reply, her husband maneuvered her onto the porch.

“I owe you one,” Adrian said jovially.

“You got that right.” Justin closed the door behind him.

Adrian returned to the kitchen to find Milán offering to help put the food away.

“You have helped enough for one evening,” Norma Jean announced. “You and Cliff go out and enjoy the deck. Adrian will help me with the leftovers.”

She glanced between them with uncertainty. “Are you sure, Jeanie?”

“Yes,” she smiled, reassuringly. “We can handle this.”

“We?” Adrian called from the doorway.

“Yes, we,” his mother stressed.

Adrian arched his eyebrow at that. When Milán turned to face him he replaced the shocked look with a grin and said, “Of course.”

Once they were through, Norma Jean shooed him out of the kitchen.

“You go on. I’ll put coffee on and be out shortly.”

* * *

By the time Adrian slid the door open and stepped onto the deck, Milán and his dad were deep in conversation. He took a minute to observe the two of them unseen. He couldn’t help but watch how the breeze kept blowing her hair across her cheek, or how she continually swept it out of her way. After a few times, she opted to pull it securely behind her ear. He was only half listening to something his father was saying, but tuned in each time Milán laughed or spoke.

A keen eye when it came to observing people, Adrian could tell if an action was sincere, or contrived. Listening to Milán as she interacted with his father, he knew without a doubt that the interest she showed his dad was genuine. Oddly, that made him smile.

He stepped into view. “It’s nice out tonight.”

“Sure is,” his father chimed in. “I was just telling Milán about Chicago winters.”

“She’s from Florida, Dad. I don’t think she’s all that anxious to hear about our frigid temperatures just yet.” He regarded her for a moment. “Coral Gables, right?”

Milán’s head snapped up. “Yes. How’d you know that?”

“I read the résumé you left and checked your references. You received your BFA and Master’s degree in Interior Design from the Miami International University of Art and Design. After graduating you interned at an architectural firm and did some freelance projects and received your accreditation as a professional staging expert. From there you were hired at a well-known firm in Miami before going to work at a company in Coral Gables. Your past employers spoke very highly of you, Milán. Your design portfolio is very impressive, as well.”

She was unable to hide her surprise. “Thank you.”

Heathcliffe pushed away from the railing. “I’d better go in and help your mother finish up. She may say she doesn’t need it, but if I don’t at least offer, I’ll hear about it later,” he chuckled and then went inside.

Adrian sat down on one of the benches stretching his legs out in front of him.

“I’m sorry about the kitchen run-in. I seem to rub you the wrong way, don’t I?”

“It appears you go out of your way to do so, Mr. Anderson.”

“That’s not my intent,” he admitted. “Miss Dixon, would you do me a favor?”

Milán lowered herself into a chair across from him. “It depends. What is it?”

“Would you please call me Adrian? You’re killing me with the Mr. Anderson thing. It’s starting to make me feel as old as my father.”

She stared at him a few seconds before she conceded to his request. “Fine.”

Their eyes locked. He raised an eyebrow after a few moments and waited.

“Adrian.” She smirked.

“Thank you.” His eyes twinkled with mischief. “Was that so hard?”

“Evidently not.” She studied him, suspiciously. “So, were you
really
just in the neighborhood?”

“Here.” He retrieved his cell phone from his pants pocket. He pulled up the calendar and held it out. “See for yourself.”

Milán saw his calendar and the entry listing that afternoon’s appointment for a showing.

“Fair enough,” she capitulated.

He put the phone away. “So you believe me when I say this was strictly a coincidence?”

“Yes, Mr. A—Adrian,” Milán corrected. “I believe you had an appointment, not that you coming over was a coincidence.”

A smile enveloped his face. “Well, it’s a start.”

“So your mother sets you up with Sabrina and she ends up falling for Justin instead. That’s quite a story.” Milán’s hand eased up to her mouth to hide her smile.

A moan escaped his lips. “We aren’t going to go over that again—are we? Didn’t I get painted with a slanted brush enough for one evening?”

Milán arched an eyebrow. “You did that job justice all by yourself.”

Adrian looked skeptical. “Really? When?”

“The day we met.”

“Touché. Our first meeting was a verifiable disaster. I fully admit that I was a consummate ass that day. You’d be happy to know it got progressively worse from there. See, I apologized for all to hear.”

Milán’s gaze traveled around the deck and back to him. “It appears we’re alone. How convenient for you.”

“I promise you the next time there are more people in the room I will openly admit that I made a fool of myself. Trust me. I’d take this concession if I were you. It doesn’t happen too often.”

BOOK: Love Contract (The Match Broker)
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