Authors: Sally Clements
Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Fiction, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary
THREE MINUTES TO HAPPINESS
Three Minutes to Happiness
By Sally Clements
Copyright © 2014 Sally Clements
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Editing by Cindy Davis
There is a certain appeal to the thought that you can discover all you need to about a man in three minutes. If you ask the right questions.
Valentine Jones tapped her wineglass with short, teal fingernails. “So, tell me again, how does this work?”
Maggie Delaney grinned. “I knew you’d be interested.” She leaned back on the white leather sofa, slipped off her shoes, and tucked her feet under her. “We just arrive at the pub, fill in a card with contact details, and then sit at tables they’ve set up with score cards.”
“Score cards?” A shiver ran through Val at the thought of grading and being graded. Maggie was so keen on the idea of speed dating she’d signed both of them up for the event taking place this weekend in a little bar on the outskirts of Dublin. Now, as Maggie sipped her chardonnay with a satisfied smile, nerves fluttered in Val’s chest.
Didn’t speed dating spell desperate?
“I’m not sure I wanted to receive marks out of ten.” She picked up a tortilla chip and dipped it in salsa. “I mean…”
Maggie shook her head. “It’s not that type of score card. You simply tick yes if you want to see that person again, or leave it blank if you don’t. They do the same, and at the end of the night all the yeses are matched up. If you’re both interested, the organizers pass on the names and contact details, and after that it’s up to you.”
Val munched on another tortilla chip. “I’m not sure it’s my type of thing.”
Maggie’s head tilted to the side. She had that sympathetic look that made Val feel like a victim. “I know. But you can’t just give up on love forever. You’re too young and too good looking for a life of celibacy.”
Val forced a smile.
“I really think this could be fun, Val. Each meeting is just three minutes; surely you could bear to talk to a man for three minutes? Especially if he’s a hottie? You need to get out more. We’re both gorgeous, available women, and there must be men out there somewhere. Ones looking for fun without hiding a wife back home.” She winced. “I’ve had it with those.”
Being on the other side of that equation wasn’t a barrel of laughs either.
Val refilled her friend’s glass. They’d both had terrible luck with men. The last two Maggie dated had been of the ‘married but ringless’ variety. And yet, despite evidence to the contrary, her optimistic friend still believed in love.
“Come on, say you’ll do it. For me,” Maggie said. “No one will get your information unless you want to see them again. It’s a win-win situation. And maybe by Christmas or Valentine’s Day at the latest, we’ll both have dates instead of sitting at home watching TV.”
“I like TV.” Val knew she sounded defensive, but really, the thought of Valentine’s Day with all its false love and store-bought cards filled her with disgust. Valentine’s Day was nothing to do with love; it was all about the money. Every year, a sentimental card with red hearts dropped into her mailbox. And every year, she ripped the envelope open, glanced at it, and threw it away. This year would be no different.
Maggie’s smile had faded. She played with the stem of her wineglass, and looked ready to throw in the towel.
Val pulled in a deep breath. She couldn’t disappoint her friend, and after all, what harm could there be to accompanying her to the speed dating event
? Three minutes
. And perhaps Maggie could find happiness. Could find love.
Val was surrounded by die-hard romantics. She’d grown up with one and now shared her home with a woman struck by the same blind affliction. She didn’t remember her father; he died when she was two, but her mother, Belle, always insisted that their love had been perfect.
So perfect that her mother had been desperate to find love again with someone new.
Unfortunately, Belle couldn’t distinguish lust from love, and had been burned so many times she should be sprayed with a flame retardant before leaving the house. ‘Love’ didn’t last beyond the first bloom of heart-pounding infatuation, and left heartbreak in its wake.
Val spent her entire childhood handing tissues to her sobbing mother after yet another boyfriend or husband had cheated. Had made herself hoarse telling her mother again and again to just give up on the crazy dream of finding her white knight. But Mum was all about love, all about happy ever after. She worshipped on the altar of love, had named her only child Valentine, and made sure to keep love in Val’s thoughts every year by sending her a Valentine’s card.
Despite the never-ending examples that proved her wrong, she still believed that the perfect man was out there, just waiting to be discovered.
I guess I can’t blame her. Even I bought into that fantasy, once upon a time.
“Okay, I’m in.”
Joy shone from Maggie’s eyes.
“If you’re so determined to find a date, I’m sure I can find you someone.” Finn Logan glared at his cousin, Sorcha, undid his top button and loosened his tie. Sorcha’s family lived in England, and when she’d got into university in Ireland, Finn’s mother had assured her sister that Finn would be close by, and would make sure she was okay. Being a point of contact for his younger relative had seemed easy, until she’d actually landed up in Dublin. He ran a hand through his thick black hair and bit back a curse.
He really didn’t have the time for this. Or the inclination. But there was no way any cousin of his was going to enter herself into a meat market. Not if he had anything to say about it. As the closest physical family member, he had no option but to deal with her crazy escapades.
Sorcha’s baby blues opened wide. “
?” She pouted. “Like that’s going to happen. No-one you know is my type, Finn. Face it.”
Finn clenched his teeth down hard. “Connor has a younger brother.”
“I met him, he’s
.” Sorcha tossed back her mane of long blonde hair. “Listen, I know you’re just looking out for me, but…” Her eyes searched the floor. “I want to meet a guy who’s into surfing, bungee jumping, having fun.” She pinned him with a stare. “Name one person you know who’s into that sort of stuff. Just one.”
Finn’s mind went completely blank.
These singles events were full of guys hoping to score a hot babe. His cousin would be exactly what they were looking for. She had no idea what men were like, none at all.
Her parents were to blame for that. They’d met when they were in their teens, married straight after college, and were completely wrapped up in their all-consuming love affair. Even now, when they should be providing a stable home for their nineteen-year-old daughter, they were off on yet another sun holiday. Sorcha kept telling Finn she was an adult.
She was anything but.
“Be reasonable, Sorcha, you’re too young.”
Sorcha planted her hands on her hips. “I’m nineteen.” Her bottom lip stuck out like a toddler having a tantrum. “You can’t stop me.”
Finn strode across the thick pile carpet to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a whiskey. “Sorcha…” he warned.
“Sorcha nothing.” She joined him, poured a splash of whiskey into a glass and tossed it back.
He smothered a grin as she coughed and spluttered. She hated whiskey, and her I’m-a-grown-up-too attempt at bravado failed spectacularly.
She slammed the heavy crystal tumbler on the table. “Fine,” she muttered. “I don’t like whiskey. That doesn’t mean I’m not a grown-up.” Her eyes glittered. “The guys at college are really infantile, Finn. I want to go on a date with a guy I at least like. “
Three weeks ago she’d called Finn in the middle of the night, after getting so drunk at a party she couldn’t see straight. The fact that Sorcha was paralytic didn’t seem to matter to the lowlife kid with his hand up her shirt. Instead of giving in to his baser instincts and punching the kid, Finn had gritted his teeth and pulled the boy off her with a muttered curse. He’d bundled her into his car and got her out of there. She was a kid. A crazy kid. Determined to experiment every vice going.
She was also vulnerable and lonely. It hadn’t taken much persuasion to move her out of her bedsit into his large Dublin townhouse, where at least he could keep an eye on her. His social life had certainly suffered as a result—he’d had to curtail his dating to set a good example, but she needed him, whether she knew it or not.
She shot him a poison-laced glance. “I’m living by your rules. I haven’t got drunk for ages, and it’s not as if I’m hanging out in clubs to try and pick up someone.” She tilted her head to the side. “With speed dating you have to rate your date. They only get your number if you both want to see each other again.”
Finn shook his head. “You have no idea.”
Sorcha’s eyes narrowed. A calculating expression flickered across her expressive face.
Finn’s stomach dived.
She smiled slowly. “I knew you’d say that. That’s why I signed you up too. So you can keep an eye on me.”
On Saturday, Val buttoned her ankle-length black coat, and wrapped her overlong scarf around her neck a couple of times, leaving the remainder of the multi-colored garment hanging loose. Since summer, there had been never ending rain. By the time she made it home her leather shoes would be squelching with water, and her black hair would be plastered against her face.
Cleopatra to Medusa in five seconds flat.
There was nothing for it. She cast a smile over her shoulder. “See you Saturday.” John, her boss at the bookshop where she worked three days a week, nodded. Val squared her shoulders, pushed the door open and stepped out into the driving rain.
She gripped her car-keys tight as she fought to stay upright on the trek to the car. The rain was almost horizontal, spiking her face with sharp needles that stung her cheeks. Why on earth she’d parked in the far reaches of the car-park rather than next to the door….
A plastic bag, caught by the wind, plastered against her jean-clad leg. She bent and peeled it off, water dripping down her face and off her nose as she stuffed the wet plastic in a nearby bin. It could be worse; at least she’d have time to shower and change before the speed dating tonight.
Val pushed her wet hair out of her eyes, slid the key into the car lock, then jerked the door open and squeezed inside. The engine started first go. Shivering, she ratcheted up the heat to full.
She hoped to hell Maggie had got all the details right for tonight. She didn’t think she could face another evening like their last foray out to meet men.
Maggie had a thing about doctors. Too much
would do that to a girl. No matter how many times Val painstakingly explained real doctors weren’t like the actors who played them, Maggie still held out hope of snagging her very own McDreamy.
When she’d spotted the event titled ‘Love Greys?’ at a hotel in the center of Dublin, she’d been adamant that they attend.
Val pulled a paper napkin out of the pile stuffed into the glove box for emergencies, and used it to squeeze the water out of her fringe. She glanced into the rearview mirror. Mascara ran in sooty black twin tracks down her cheeks. She dabbed the worst of it away with another napkin as her mind wandered back through time.
They’d dressed in scrubs, pink for Maggie, blue for Val. Accessorized with high heels, because there was no way to look sexy in scrubs without them. And when they’d turned up in the hotel’s function room, hadn’t quite known what to think, frankly.
No gorgeous doctors. No white coats. Just a few nervous looking people making awkward conversation.
“Let’s get a drink,” Maggie had said. The only choice on the drinks table set up in the corner was a large punchbowl full of a dubious red liquid with slices of floating orange bobbing on top.
They’d helped themselves.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Maggie muttered.
Love’s not worth the risk.
Val kept her thoughts to herself as Maggie scanned the room for McSteamy.
Maggie squared her shoulders. “I’m going out there.”