Love Contract (The Match Broker) (9 page)

BOOK: Love Contract (The Match Broker)
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She looked the man over and then turned back to Adrian. “I doubt it,” she replied confidently. “He looked down as he walked by instead of straight ahead or around the room. A clear indication he’s not sure of himself. Either that or he doesn’t like to meet life head on,” she noted. “Definitely not my type.”

“Are you sure?” he pressed. “Maybe he’s a diamond in the rough?”

“No, thanks. I’m a woman that likes my diamonds right out in the open where I can see them.”

Adrian smirked at that. “Fair enough. Wait, I’ve got him. Over there to your right. The well-tanned man in the blue shirt.”

“You mean the one with the laptop?”

“That’s the one.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s stroking his laptop like it’s a woman. Definitely a bad sign. His lady would be competing with his computer.”

Adrian’s expression turned mischievous. “And if that were you? How would you like to be stroked?”

A slow smile crept onto her face. “That would depend.”

He leaned forward. His eyes took on a devilish gleam. “On what?”

“On who’s doing the stroking.”

Her last statement hung heavily in the air between them. The heat that breezed through Adrian took him by surprise. Milán cleared her throat. He watched as she reached for her water. He decided to focus on the ice cubes swirling around in her glass. That was a mistake.

Milán took a drink. Fascinated, he watched the condensation slide slowly down the outside of the glass. One ice cube disappeared into her mouth; he waited for it to reappear, but it never did.

Adrian watched her jaws clamp down to crush the ice between her teeth. She chewed several seconds before swallowing. He unconsciously swallowed, too.

Man, get it together,
he chided. With as casual a smile as he could muster, he said, “Your turn.”

“Okay.” Milán scanned the restaurant in search of a potential date for him. Their table was in the corner so she was afforded the perfect vantage point. With a mask of concentration, she perused the diners. Suddenly, her face lit up. “What about her?”

Adrian looked baffled. “Who?”

Milán leaned in. “There’s a woman at ten o’clock.”

“My ten or your ten?”

“My ten, your two. I think she could be your type.”

Taking his time, Adrian checked out the woman Milán pointed out. His eyes held humor when they hers again. “
¿Ahora, quién está
loco en la cabeza?

Chapter 12

M
ilán didn’t take offense at his accusation. Instead, it spurred her on. “Don’t even sit here and say she’s not your type.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely my type, but she’s on the prowl.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Milán challenged. “She’s gorgeous, well dressed and isn’t wearing a wedding ring.”


No va a funcionar
.”

“What do you mean it’s not going to work?
¿Cómo puedes estar tan seguro?
” she continued.


Porque ella es depredadora
.”

“A predator?” Milán couldn’t contain her snicker. “
Estás lleno de ti mismo
.”

“That much is true, but there’s only room for one Alpha male in any relationship, Milán. We both can’t drive,” he said, pointedly.

“Yo digo que estás equivocado.”

Adrian’s eyes glinted with purpose. “I’m not wrong. Watch and learn, lady.”

Without warning, Adrian got up, moved his chair directly beside Milán and sat back down. If the rest of the group thought the action odd, no one bothered to comment. Now they both had a vantage view of the woman-in-question’s table. He leaned his body closer to Milán so that they could converse without being overheard.


Mirala muy
bien
,” Adrian commanded.


Yo soy
,” Milán said, quietly.

“No, really look carefully. You’ll notice she’s here without her girlfriends tonight. That’s because they would give a man way too many options. Tonight, it’s all about her. She wants to be the center of attention—without any distractions. It also ensures that any man thinking of taking a trip over to that table knows she’s available.” Adrian continued his observations. “You see how she’s swirling her finger around the lip of her glass?”

Milán studied the woman. “Uh-huh.”

“It’s a seductive, hypnotizing move don’t you think? Almost like a snake charmer.”

Studying the movement, Milán’s eyes never left the lady seated across the room. “I guess so.”

“Notice how bored our femme fatale looks, too. Another green light for a guy because all he’s thinking about is the things he could do to wipe that look off her face. Trust me, somewhere in this room a man is watching her like a hawk ready to pounce, but I’m betting he’ll be the one getting pounced on.”

As if on cue, a man got up and sauntered over to the femme’s table. Milán sat transfixed as he stood towering over the woman. He leaned in to say something. It was several moments before she smiled with feline precision, and then nodded. A look of relief crossed his face and a millisecond later, it was gone. In its place was an expression of confidence. The man lowered his large body onto the seat across from her. Their eyes locked.

Milán was simply unable to keep herself from staring at them. It was as though she were watching a movie. The two people she observed moved as graceful as the slow stalking characteristics of a well-choreographed tango. One would make a bold move, the other would retreat. Seconds later, that person would take the lead, and the dance would begin again in perfect symmetry.

“No question on whether they’re leaving together.”

The deep timbre of Adrian’s voice coaxed Milán from her reverie. She leaned farther back in her chair. Her eyes focused on his face. “How do you do that?”

A smile played at the corner of his lips. “What can I say? It’s a gift.”

“Is that what it’s like for you?”

“Hardly. At least not with any of the dates my mother sets up,” he replied drily. “Those tend to end a lot differently. Much less gazing and tons more explaining.”

Milán noticed his face clouded over for a minute. She wondered if he was remembering Norma Jean’s helpful hookups.

“Well, whatever it is,” she said trying to lighten the mood, “I hope you never try it on me.”

Adrian’s eyebrow shot upward. “Is that a challenge?”


¿Cómo puedes estar tan seguro?

“Yes, Milán.” His eyes glinted with amusement. “I most definitely think you just said it was a challenge.”

“Dream on,” she retorted.

The rest of the meal was spent in jovial conversation. Their experiment forgotten, Milán and Adrian joined in the rest of the table’s conversation. After dinner, everyone congregated outside the restaurant for a moment before going their separate ways.

Adrian pulled Milán off to the side. “I’m glad you and your friend came to dinner.”

“So am I,” she replied. “It was really weird running into you in such a huge crowd. What are the odds?”

He smiled down at her. “Fate, remember?”

The way he looked at her made her skin tingle. “To fate then,” she smiled. “Thanks again. That was a great restaurant.”

“Yeah, I’ve been here a few times. You should put this on the short list if you’re ever in the market for a place to go on your next blind date.”

“You know, you’re not as obnoxious as I originally thought.”

Adrian chuckled. He leaned in and brushed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. His fingers glided along her ear and cheek. “But you still think I’m trouble?”

Milán tried to pay attention to the conversation. It was difficult considering his fingers had just touched her skin. Alarm bells started pealing.
Focus.
“Of course,” she teased, “but at least you aren’t the obnoxious playboy I thought you were when we met.”

A hearty laugh escaped him. “Thanks...I guess. So, does that mean you’ve decided to give my job offer serious consideration?”

She tilted her head to the side. “You know, Mr. Anderson, I think I might.” Just then Tiffany joined them and asked Milán if she was ready to go.

Without warning, Adrian’s hand closed around hers. “Good night, Miss Dixon. I think you’ve made a wise choice.”

“I said I’d consider it,” she clarified. “It’s not a done deal.” She shook his hand before lowering hers.

He flashed a broad grin. “I’ll await your call.”

Before Milán could say more, he moved off. The rest of the crowd waved goodbye and headed their separate ways.

“That was an awesome evening,” Tiffany gushed. “I got invited out on a date,” she said in an exuberant voice.

“Seriously?” Milán looked over at her friend. “That’s fantastic, and I want all the details.”

“I’ll fill you in later, but first admit it. This evening was much better than a night on the couch.”

Milán watched Adrian and his friends walk down the sidewalk. “Yes,” she said, absentmindedly flexing her fingers. “I guess it was.”

“Ooh,” Tiffany said in a singsong voice. “You like him.”

Milán stared at the ground in front of her. “Yes, I actually do. He’s turned out to be funny, charming and I think we’re developing a friendship. Weird, huh?”

“Not really, and no. That isn’t what I meant and you know it. You
like
him,” Tiffany said, pointedly. “Go ahead and try to deny it. Granted, I’ve never seen that doe-eyed look on your face before, but it’s the same the whole world over when a woman finds a man that she’s all gaga over. And right now...you are wearing it,
chica
...big time.” Tiffany dissolved into a fit of laughter.

“I am not,” Milán protested. “Besides, I’ve got a date tomorrow. It could be a very good one.”

“You’re right,” Tiffany agreed. “It might.”

Later that night, Milán sat cross-legged on her bed flipping through one of her favorite decor magazines. She rolled her neck in circles to stretch her tired muscles. When she opened her eyes again, her gaze caught the lightweight comforter folded neatly at the end of her bed. The large, bold stripes of white, orange and a cool green reminded her of eating cantaloupe and honeydew melons from a bowl on a hot summer day. It always made her smile.

Suddenly, she picked up the sketch pad and opened a box of colored pencils lying next to her. Milán would analyze a room and then give it a complete overhaul on paper based on her ideas. Her bed linens had given her a flash of inspiration. Soon the page was transformed into a fashionable recreation room that any tween girl would be elated to hang out in. It was an exercise that helped her relax, and after tonight she needed it.

When she had first reached home, Milán had showered, put on her pajamas and telephoned her parents. Over the next thirty minutes, she had conversed with her mom, dad and two sisters via two three-way conference calls. It was a hodgepodge of English and Spanish conversations going on simultaneously. To an outsider it might be viewed as a bit chaotic, but for her family it worked.

Now there was only the occasional whisper of a magazine page being turned or the sounds of her sketching. The lack of noise was deafening. Her hand poised on the paper as her thoughts drifted to her unexpected run-in.

Their evening together was not what she’d expected. Granted, he was still as cocky and arrogant as ever, but each time they crossed paths, Milán discovered a new layer. More traits surfaced allowing her to see him in a different light. Had he been right? Had she painted him with too broad a brush?
It’s possible, but to agree to work for him? Is that really a wise idea considering you think he’s hot?
she asked herself.

“Who are you kidding? You need a job and the bills aren’t going to pay themselves.” Her thoughts drifted to Eduardo. Her gullibility where he was concerned still left a bitter taste in her mouth. So did cleaning up his messes, but what was done, was done. Crying about it wasn’t keeping her credit scores up.

With a loud sigh, she placed her things on the nightstand, got under the covers and stretched out. She placed her arms behind her head to get comfortable. Going over her options, Milán grudgingly admitted that only one opportunity had presented itself thus far. Was it worth holding out for another? Or was this the lifeline she was being thrown? If so, not seizing it would be an even bigger mistake than giving her heart to a consummate liar.

Suddenly, Tiffany’s words replayed in her head. “You
like
him.” Milán had flatly denied it the entire way home, but her friend simply wasn’t buying it. The more she had told Tiffany she was imagining things, the more Tiffany countered that she was in denial. Finally, they agreed to disagree and Tiffany announced that she was a patient woman and had no problem waiting to see Milán eat her words.

With a loud sigh, she pushed her conversation with Tiffany aside. Business was business.

“I hope I don’t regret this,” she groaned aloud. Flinging the covers back, Milán leaned over to retrieve her cell phone from the nightstand. She scrolled through her contact list until she found the number. She pressed the screen and waited. When it was answered, Milán got right to the point.

“Okay, I’ve thought it over, and I accept your offer. I’ll be by your office tomorrow to discuss it,” she informed Adrian before disconnecting the line.

Chapter 13

M
ilán sat back in her chair and took a good look at the diagram she’d created on her computer. It had taken two hours, but she was finally content with the plan for her brand new client’s Gold Coast condo. It had been two weeks since she’d accepted Adrian’s job proposal. It had taken them a few iterations to hammer out her contract. The main sticking point was that she would only agree to work on a trial basis, and that she be allowed to take off for her upcoming vacation with her sisters.

“Where to?” he had inquired after she had told him about her annual trip.

“I’m not sure. That’s the thing. Whoever’s planning the trip surprises the others with the destination. We don’t tell until we’re almost ready to catch our flight, or cruise. All we can disclose is the climate so we know what to pack.”

“Sounds like fun,” he had replied.

Granted, he had been none too happy about the position being a trial, but in the end he had capitulated and she got her way.

Milán was surprised at how easily she’d transitioned into the office. Everyone had been extremely kind making it simple to get to know her new coworkers. Overall, Adrian was in tune with his staff, trusting everyone to their own areas of expertise. That lent itself to a very relaxed environment which she enjoyed, but the most unexpected occurrence was her newfound friendship with him.

Upon further exploration, Milán learned that she and Adrian had a great deal in common—in addition to their repeatedly being fixed up by Norma Jean. She found it easy to open up about her past. Even her time with Eduardo and the pain his deceit had caused. Adrian had listened and offered his unique perspective when she’d asked his opinion. She smiled when recalling some of the conversations they’d had. Over the last few weeks, it had been facile for Milán learning his likes and dislikes. They’d spent a great deal of time together. Of course when the topic was about him, Milán discovered Adrian was almost an open book.

Since she’d come onboard, he’d done nothing to overstep his bounds. In truth, he was a perfect gentleman in every way. Still...there would occasionally be a look, or a jolt when they made physical contact that would plummet Milán into a sea of confusion. At those times, she’d remind herself about the line she’d sworn not to cross. Adrian Anderson was her boss and they were in a professional environment, and she would do well to remember that.

“There you are.”

Caught daydreaming, Milán jumped. “Hi, Jeanie.” Her hand came up to her chest. “You gave me a start. What brings you by?”

“I’ve come to take you out for a bite to eat. Sort of a congratulations-on-your-new-job lunch. I wanted to take you out on your first day, but things have been hectic for me lately. I’ve begun teaching a new senior water aerobics class at the community center.”

“Really? How exciting,” Milán gushed. She glanced at the clock on her wall and frowned. She had indeed worked through lunch. “Jeanie, you don’t have to take me out,” she began, but Norma Jean was having none of it.

“Nonsense. We’re going, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“Okay,” Milán agreed retrieving her purse from her one of her desk drawers. “I know when I’ve been overruled.”

As they walked out, Milán informed the receptionist when she’d return.

Once they went out into the bright sunlight, Milán reached for her sunglasses and slid them into place.

“The receptionist is so serious all the time,” Milán told Norma Jean as they began walking. “I’ve tried to get her to loosen up a bit, but she’s like a rock.”

“She’s old-school, honey. She runs a tight ship, and isn’t in love with my son. Two points sadly missing from her predecessor.”

Milán digested that bit of information. “Good grief, is there any woman within a twelve-mile radius that isn’t falling all over your son?”

Norma Jean linked her arm through Milán’s. “Yes—you.”

“That’s true. I’m not interested in men that think women are nothing more than portable playthings. I was surrounded by them in Miami. You couldn’t walk down the street without seeing one drive by with his fast car and jewelry-studded eye candy sitting next to him. That isn’t what interests me. Not then, and certainly not now.”

“My goodness, such conviction,” Norma Jean observed. “You really think Adrian falls into that category? Especially now that you know him so well?”

“Don’t you?” Milán countered.

“Oh, honey, he has his moments, but that isn’t where his head’s at these days.”

“Yes, but being friends with someone is different than having a physical relationship with them. Personally, I think it’s darn-near impossible for the proverbial zebra to change his stripes.”

“Are you speaking from experience?”

“You could say that.” Milán couldn’t keep the tinge of regret out of her voice. “I thought my ex was reformed, but was dead wrong.”

“Well, maybe he just wasn’t the one you were destined to be with.”

Milán was thoughtful. “I guess you’re right.”

* * *

Adrian’s mother insisted on Milán picking the restaurant so she chose a nearby Thai restaurant farther down Halstead. After they were seated with menus, Norma Jean casually asked, “So tell me how your date went with the caterer?”

Milán made a face. “Hardly worth discussing. There was no chemistry there—at least not between us. Though I have to say his shrimp seviche was out of this world.”

Norma Jean rolled her eyes. “You went out with one of the most eligible bachelors in the city, and the only thing you can provide feedback on is his food? What about the accountant you dated a few weeks ago?”

“He’s a nice guy, but there wasn’t any chemistry.”

“That’s too bad,” Adrian’s mother replied. “But back to the drawing board.”

“Jeanie, I’ve got too much going on with work to be too concerned with dating,” Milán said and then began to study her menu.

“Oh, please. Now you sound just like my workaholic son. You two really need to get out for a night on the town. I know the perfect—”

“No,” Milán cried out. Blushing, she glanced up at Norma Jean. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “What I meant was I’ve had enough blind dates for a while. No offense.”

Norma Jean stifled a laugh. “None taken, dear.”

* * *

Adrian was finishing up with a client when he received a telephone call. He let it go to voice mail. Later, while he was getting into his car he decided to check his messages. After deleting it, he checked his watch. “
Damn
.” He dialed Milán’s number. After a few rings, he hung up and tried his office. When the line was answered, he asked to speak to Milán.

“I’m sorry, sir. Miss Dixon left not too long ago with your mother,” the receptionist informed him.

“Do you know where they went?”

“No, but she did mention getting a bite to eat.”

“Thanks.” Adrian hung up and dialed his mother. He breathed a sigh of relief when she answered the phone.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, honey,” Norma Jean replied. “What a nice surprise. Milán and I just sat down to eat. Why don’t you join us?”

“I can’t,” Adrian explained. “I need to speak to Milán. It’s important.”

“Sure, hang on.” Norma Jean handed the phone to Milán.

“Hello?”

“Sorry to interrupt,” he began. “I tried your cell, but you didn’t answer. I need a favor and pretty darn quick.”

* * *

Milán lit candles strategically placed around the first floor of Adrian’s two-level brownstone. Located on North Dearborn Street in Chicago’s highly desirable Gold Coast neighborhood, it was convenient to the Magnificent Mile and Oak Beach. Perfect for entertaining, Adrian’s home boasted a small patio area in the front of the gated yard and a courtyard with a fire pit, seating and a water feature in the back.

An hour after his frantic phone call, Milán had transformed Adrian’s first floor and outdoor area with fresh fragrant flowers and candles.

“Stop hovering,” she chided seeing the anxious look on his face. “Everything is fine.”

“Sorry, it’s just that one of our newest clients is a big deal for Anderson,” Adrian explained following closely behind her. “We’ve been trying to get the listing on my house for some time now. That she picked us to list her estate could open up lots of doors. She’s very connected, and in this economy we need every advantage. That’s why I’m...we’re throwing this impromptu mixer. She’ll be out of the country for a few weeks and I wanted to get it done before she left. I thought it would be good to extend the invitation to our other buyers and sellers we’ve acquired over the last few weeks, too.”

“It’s a great idea, Adrian. I’m glad I could help,” Milán replied lighting the last candle.

Suddenly, Adrian was right behind her. He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her against him for a hug. “I’m glad you could, too. You’re incredible,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m sorry for coming between you and your date tonight, though.”

Not realizing that she had closed her eyes, Milán opened them and eased out of his arms. She turned to face him. “Uh...no problem. He’s fine with coming over here. I’m just glad we were able to get a small group together on such short notice.”

Adrian snorted. “Free food and alcohol? Who could ever turn down such an enticing combination?”

As if to prove the point, his doorbell rang.

Milán ran her tongue over her teeth and smoothed her dress. She faced Adrian. “How do I look?”

His eyes roamed over her sleeveless wraparound silk dress. The vibrant yellow and orange material reminded him of a tequila sunrise. Milán’s hair was swept up and piled loosely on top of her head. Her strappy gold sandals complemented her dress and the shimmering orange polish on her toenails. She looked amazing.

“Amazing,” he repeated aloud. “It’s like you’ve been kissed by summer.”

She beamed at his compliment. “How poetic.” Milán’s hand swept through the air to encompass his black slacks with gray and black silk shirt. “You don’t look so bad yourself—but then you knew that,” she teased.

How long they stood staring at each other was anybody’s guess. The room seemed to hum with a sudden undercurrent that reverberated between them. Adrian opened his mouth to say something, but the doorbell buzzed again.

Milán was the first to move. “That’s probably the caterer.” She said clearing her throat. “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” She hurried from the room.

Adrian turned to watch her leave. He could feel the tension they shared. That along with the way she had practically vaulted from the room told him that Milán had felt it, too. He had to admit that his life had been going along incident-free since Milán had started working for him. She’d done something no woman had yet accomplished. She had become his friend.

It had been a natural progression that he wasn’t even aware of. She was important to him now. Exploring more than a friendship would complicate matters.
Wouldn’t it?

Several positive things had resulted from Milán being in his life. The first was that their spending so much time together resulted in no dates-from-hell courtesy of his mother. The second and more important was that since Milán had come on board, Anderson Realty was experiencing a surge in interest for her staging services.

Adrian wasn’t thrilled about her being there on a trial basis, but he’d have six weeks to convince her to stay on full-time. Not that he was worried about the caveat she had placed in her contract. He would win her over in the end. Adrian was very convincing when he needed to be, and thus far the only woman that remained immune to his persuasion, at the most inopportune times—besides his receptionist—was his beloved mother.

Adrian had to admit that the
Love Broker had remained true to her word. His mother had not fixed him up with any women lately, and for that he was truly grateful.

In fact, Adrian had taken the reins himself and had secured his own date for the evening. A hot beauty named Aria that taught spin classes at his gym. She was tall, had black hair cropped short, a slamming body and a beautiful personality. They’d gone out a few times, and her being interested in casual dating had been an added bonus.

“Adrian, the caterer is here,” Milán called from the other room.

“Thanks,” he called out before giving himself a mental shake.
Get your head in the game,
he scolded himself before heading to the kitchen.

BOOK: Love Contract (The Match Broker)
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