Read What the Single Dad Wants... Online
Authors: Marie Ferrarella
Isabelle laughed. “Are you planning on narrating everything that happens between us?” she asked.
“Probably not.” He brushed his lips against each cheek. “Suspense thrillers are my forte, not romantic scenes, remember?”
“Oh, I wouldn't exactly say that,” she contradicted. “You seem to have a very natural aptitude for romantic scenes.”
“Nice of you to notice,” he told her, continuing to shower her face with tiny, arousing kisses. “I think you should know that no matter what I'm doing, I always try to top whatever I've done before.”
“Well then, in the words of the immortal Bette Davis, I guess I'd better fasten my seat belt, because it's going to be a bumpy night.”
“Don't bother fastening anything,” he instructed. “I'll only have to unfasten it.”
Brandon Slade is a bestselling author who seems to have it all: looks, money, a sense of humor. He even has a movie icon as a mother. But famous people need loving, too, and Brandon was once married to someone he'd thought was the woman of his dreams, only to have her abandon him and their infant daughter. It made him leery of romantic entanglements and very leery of his own ability to judge a person accurately. All of which makes his mother despair that he will ever get married again.
As for Isabelle Sinclair, she's decided that she's perfectly happy dedicating herself to “fixing broken people.” She's a physical therapist who thrives on challenges and brings her own personal brand of enthusiasm to her work. She's in business with her older sister, Zoe, who, like Brandon's mother, worries that Isabelle will never know the joy of having her own family. But once Zoe and Brandon's mother make their fears known to Cecilia Parnell, one third of our Matchmaking Mamas, all they have to do is sit back and wait for the magic to happen. Because it does.
As ever, I thank you for reading, and from the bottom of my heart I wish you someone to love who loves you back.
Diamond in the Rough
The Bride with No Name
Mistletoe and Miracles
Plain Jane and the Playboy
Loving the Right Brother
The 39-Year-Old Virgin
A Lawman for Christmas
Prescription for Romance
Doctoring the Single Dad
Fixed Up with Mr. Right?
Unwrapping the Playboy
Fortune's Just Desserts
A Match for the Doctor
What the Single Dad Wants
A Doctor's Secret
Secret Agent Affair
Protecting His Witness
Colton's Secret Service
The Heiress's 2-Week Affair
Becoming a Cavanaugh
The Agent's Secret Baby
The Cavanaugh Code
In Bed with the Badge
Colton by Marriage
In His Protective Custody
Pocketful of Rainbows
The Sheriff's Christmas Surprise
Ramona and the Renegade
The Doctor's Forever Family
bestselling and RITA
Award-winning author has written more than two hundred books for Harlequin Books and Silhouette Books, some under the name Marie Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website at www.marieferrarella.com.
To Patience Smith,
who keeps letting me
spinning my stories
aizie Sommers raised her eyes from the five fanned out cards she held in her hand and slowly scanned the faces of her two very best, lifelong friends, Theresa Manetti and Cecilia Parnell. They were playing poker. The weekly game was the excuse they used in order to take a temporary break from their thriving businesses. They would get together to catch up, share and gossip, although Theresa preferred to call it “a review of local news.”
Lately, of equal importance was their continuing passion for matchmaking. And they were good at it.
“So, ladies, any prospects or projects in the offing?” Maizie asked hopefully. Her lively eyes shifted from one face to the other. Faces she knew as well as, if not better than, her own.
The past few weeks had gone by without any of them calling the others, excitedly stating that their
servicesâthose outside of the real estate business that Maizie ran, the high-end cleaning service that belonged to Cecilia or the popular catering business that had initially begun in Theresa's kitchenâwere once more required.
Cecilia frowned at the hand she had been dealt and separated four of the five cards she held, disdainfully putting them face down on the table.
“Well, I don't know if this constitutes a âproject,'” she began offhandedly, “But Anastasia Del Vecchio was carrying on again about her son's single status. The last time I was overseeing the cleaning crew at her mausoleum of a house, she told me that she would be going on tour in this revival for the next six months. She would
love to leave him and her granddaughter in good hands.”
Maizie paused, thinking. Remembering. “Her son's that writer, isn't he? The one who writes those bestselling thrillers, right?”
“Brandon Slade.” Cecilia supplied the author's name. “I clean both their houses.” She leaned slightly forward, sharing a confidence. “Brandon is rather organized for a man. As for her, Anastasia couldn't pick up after herself if her life depended on it.”
“She's an actress. It's not part of her repertoire,” Maizie commented with a soft laugh. “As for hoping to leave her son in âgood hands,' I'm sure someone as famous and successful as Brandon Slade never lacks for female companionship.”
“There's a difference between âfemale companionship' and a woman of substance, the kind a man could spend the rest of his life with,” Theresa interjected with a knowing expression.
The others knew she was referring to what would
have, until recently, described her son Kullen's situation. The highly successful, handsome young lawyer had once had a different woman on his arm every week. They had arranged things so that he reconnected with the only woman who had ever meant anything to him. A woman, thanks to them, he would soon marry.
Maizie stopped pretending that the cards had any sort of a hold on her attention and placed them all face down on the card table. She slanted a look at Theresa.
“I know that tone. You have someone in mind for Anastasia's son, don't you?”
Theresa smiled. Of the three of them, she was the shyest. But her convictions and loyalties were just as fierce as those her friends harbored.
“Let's just say I have someone who needs to be led to water,” Theresa admitted subtly.
“Give,” Cecilia ordered, shifting to the edge of her seat and looking at her friend expectantly.
“I catered a lunch for Healing Handsâit's a private physical therapy organization,” Theresa explained, answering the silent quizzical looks she saw on Cecilia's and Maizie's faces. “The owner, Zoe Sinclair, said she was worried about her younger sister, Isabelle. She said Isabelle was entirely too dedicated, which was good for the company, but bad for Isabelle's love lifeâsomething Zoe said that, as far as she knew, her sister hadn't had in at least a couple of years. Maybe more.”
Cecilia sighed. “I know how that is,” the woman murmured.
The truth was all three of them did. Friends since the third grade, they had cheered one another on through courtships, marriages and children. And grieved as, one by one, they found themselves sharing yet something else: widowhood.
Eternally optimistic, they believed firmly in romance, which had first caused them to dabble in their daughters' lives, then in Theresa's son's situation. Hooked on the challenge, they were eager to branch out, to help friends and clients who sought to have their children or their siblings find satisfying, lasting relationships. They sought no repayment for their efforts. They did it for the sheer joy of bringing two people together.
Making no response to Cecilia's comment, Theresa produced a candid photograph of her catering client's sister, taken by someone at the party.
With a laugh, Cecilia dug into her oversize purse and pulled out the latest thriller by Brandon Slade, a book he'd given her the last time her crew had cleaned his house. She placed it front cover side down on the table.
“I'll see your photograph and raise you a dust jacket,” Cecilia declared, pushing the book to the middle of the table, next to Isabelle Sinclair's picture.
Maizie looked from Brandon to Isabelle and nodded thoughtfully. “Looks to me as if these two young people would make a truly wonderful couple,” she agreed, then raised her eyes to look at her friends. “But how do we bring them together?”
That, they all knew, temporarily stumped, was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.
rama was Anastasia Del Vecchio's life. In the spotlight since she'd been three years old, the venerable actress could be forgiven if at times she indulged her inner child and fell back on being a drama queen, something that had been deemed “adorable” by the movie reviewers when she was three, four and five, but seen as a tad grating on the nerves when she hit her teens and twenties.
Ever the trouper, she'd reinvented herself a handful of times since then and was now considered one of the acting world's last true icons.
For the most part, the actress refrained from giving in to this whim. Although, by no stretch of the imagination could the terms “shy” or “retiring” ever be applied to Anastasia Del Vecchio, not even when she slept. At this point in her career, everything about the legendary star was considered to be larger than life. She made a
point of greeting both life and people with enthusiastic gusto.
If something couldn't be done in a big way, she saw no reason for it being done at all. Her energetic approach was the hallmark of her life, her five marriages and her numerous affairs. That aspect of her personality would never change. So it was no surprise that when an unexpected fall from the stage where she was rehearsing her latest play necessitated her being rushed off to the hospital, Anastasia was quite vocal about her pain. And she fiercely fought off the suggestion that any sort of drugs be introduced to alleviate her suffering. “I can
this,” she declared, batting away the paramedic's hand as he hovered over her with a syringe containing a measured dose of morphine. There were genuine tears of pain in her eyes as she gritted her teeth together. “I can remember this when I have to portray a woman in the throes of dire physical agony.”
Anastasia had witnessed too many falls from grace to be complacent about taking any drugs. Drugs would wrestle the control she treasured so highly away from her.
As it turned out, these words were the last the renowned actress said in the ambulance before the pain succeeded in knocking her unconscious.
At the time of his mother's accident, Brandon Slade had been in the midst of wrestling with a completely unfamiliar foe. Writer's block. Like any writer faced with this demon, he had welcomed any distraction. So when the phone had rung, he'd snatched it up and found himself summoned to the theater by a very shaken and distraught director, Tyler Channing. He'd been in his car less than three minutes later and managed to arrive just
in time to climb into the back of the ambulance with his mother as the doors were shut.
The paramedic slanted a nervous look at him as he administered the injection to the now unconscious actress. “She always like this?” the man asked.
A fond smile curved Brandon's mouth as he held his mother's hand. “Always.”
Brandon Slade, a media darling in his own right, was Anastasia's only child, the product of his mother's second marriage. Head over heels in love, she'd married a passionate Australian actor whose ardor, sadly, was not restricted to the woman he'd exchanged vows with.
Unable to overlook the mounting number of women her husband slept with, Anastasia, with a secretly aching heart, had sent him packing eighteen months into their marriageâand eight months into her one and only pregnancy. The rather pedestrian actor, one Kevin Slade, had made one more appearance to take a look at his son through the nursery window and then disappeared from both their lives.
Brandon was raised by a succession of nannies, some good, some not-so-good. But he never felt the lack of his mother's love even as she wove in and out of his life like a darning needle, taking work close to home when she could, leaving him behind with a nanny and under the watchful eye of her own mother when she couldn't.
Despite this chaotic upbringing, Brandon never felt neglected, never acted out, never felt desperate for attention. For a child born into the acting community, he was a rarity. He grew up centered and well-adjusted. He bore no resentment toward his mother for her less-than-orthodox behavior. She was Anastasia Del Vecchio, and that was just the way she was, a hurricane blowing in and out of his life.
For his part, Brandon enjoyed his life and enjoyed his mother whenever he could. And when he sought to make his own way in the world, there was no one who was more supportive of his effortsâand his chosen fieldâthan his mother. He loved her dearly for it.
Just how much was brought home to him when his own wife had walked out on himâcoincidentally before he'd sold his first successful thriller and landed on the
New York Times
bestseller list. She'd told him just as she'd packed up and left that he, and the life he wanted, bored her. He'd been heartbroken and struggling to put the pieces of his life back together, not for his own sake, but for Victoria's. His daughter had been a little more than a month old at the time, and he hadn't known the first thing about taking care of a baby. When she'd heard what had happened, Anastasia had deliberately restructured her life, accepting a lesser part in a cable series that was being filmed in Los Angeles just so that she could be there to help with Victoria.
Unlike some parents when they made sacrificesâand in complete departure from her public personaâ Anastasia never made any mention of the inconvenience this restructuring necessitated. She also never told him that she'd passed up a part that landed the woman who took her place an Academy Award. Her best friend, a hairstylist named Olga Newton, had let that little gem drop five years after the fact, which was the only way Brandon ever found out.
Now it was his turn to help her, Brandon thought, still holding his unconscious mother's hand.
As it turned out, the fall resulted in a cracked left hip. When she finally woke up eleven hours later, it was all over but the healing. The horrified actress was less than
pleased to discover that she'd had to have emergency surgery and that where there'd once been bone, she now had titanium.
“Like the Bionic Man?” Her voice boomed with displeasure as she absorbed the news.
“Something like that, except you won't be able to run that fast,” Brandon informed her, amused. “But the good news is that the surgeon used the newest approach to this surgery on youâ”
“You let them
on me?” Anastasia cried, alarmed.
“Not experiment, Mother. This was a proven method. It's called Anterior Hip Replacement and what I'm trying to tell you is that you're going to bounce back faster because there were no muscles cut with this approach. They were just stretched. You'll be walking by the time I get you home,” he promised her.
By this time, twelve-year-old Victoria had been brought to the hospital by his agent and had sat, looking worried, until her grandmother had opened her uniquely violet eyes.
Brandon rested his hands now on his daughter's slight but sturdy shoulders as they both faced his mother with the news. “Oh, and by the way, I'm having your things moved into the guest room.”
Anastasia frowned, then sighed wearily. Numbed and a little fearful, she fell back on what she knew. Drama and bravado. “You don't know what things to move.”
Brandon took her resistance in stride. He was on familiar ground. “No, I don't,” he admitted. “But I'm sure you'll tell me if I've forgotten something.”
Sullen, Anastasia reached out for Victoria's hand. Her granddaughter was quick to respond. The role reversal
was obvious and unselfconscious. “It's easier just leaving me at home and getting me a nurse.”
“You know no one would be able to put up with you on a round-the-clock basis but me,” Brandon pointed out, suppressing a grin. “Besides, who will you have around to help smooth out all those feathers you're going to ruffle?” His mother was far from the easiest person to deal with when she wasn't feeling at the top of her game, and this circumstance promised to keep her from that height for at least a month under the best of conditions. Undoubtedly more. “No argument, Mother. It's a done deal.”
“I'll disrupt your well-ordered life,” Anastasia protested for form's sake. It was easy for Brandon to see that he'd already won the argument. But his mother being what she was, she had to go through the motions so she had something to point to later, should he have a complaint about her staying at his home. “People will be coming and going. Loud people,” she emphasized.
“I'll make the adjustment,” he promised. “Now, the surgeon said we needed to make arrangements for you to begin physical therapy sessions as soon as possible.”
Anastasia balked at the image that suggested to her. “That's for old people,” she protested, this time in earnest.
“No,” Victoria told her in her quiet, wise voice. “That's for people who take one too many steps backward off a stage.”
Also in the room while this verbal three-way tennis match was going on was Cecilia Parnell. Initially just providing a cleaning service, she'd transformed into something more: Anastasia's occasional confidante and friend.
“You know,” Cecilia began, “I know the name of an
excellent physical therapist. She's very dedicated and comes with a long string of recommendations,” she threw in for good measure.
This was his only mother, and as blasÃ© as he could sometimes sound, Brandon wasn't about to take a chance when it came to the woman's well-being.
“I'd like to see those recommendations,” Brandon told Cecilia.
“Oh, Brandon, don't be so uptight,” Anastasia chided. “If Celia says she's good, she's good. You want to be useful, make the arrangements,” she dictated. Her violet eyes shifted to the woman who cleaned her house to a spotlessness beyond reproach. “They promised me I could go home in two days. See if this miracle lady can be at the house by Wednesday morning. I need to be on my feetâand able to danceâin six weeks. There's a bonus in it for her if she can get me there in less time.”
“It doesn't work like that, Mother,” Brandon said patiently, exchanging looks with Celia.
“I am filthy rich, Brandon. It works any way that I tell it to work,” Anastasia countered with complete confidence.
Cecilia smiled as if to convey how a little miracle was about to be set in motion.
At ten o'clock Wednesday morning, when Brandon opened the door to admit the physical therapist that Cecilia Parnell had recommended, he wasn't exactly certain what to expect. Subconsciously, he had just assumed that Isabelle Sinclair would be a woman of the sturdier variety, big-boned and strong enough to be able to catch an average-size patient. He knew it would prob
ably be viewed as stereotyping, but, like most people, he associated strength with size.
The woman he stared at could probably catch a falling chipmunk. A small one.
He definitely was
expecting a petite, delicate young blonde who looked as if she would blow over in the first high wind that blew through the Newport Beach community. So he could be forgiven if he came to the conclusion that this willowy woman on his doorstep was here for some other reason than to begin his mother's physical therapy regimen.
Maybe this was a nurse sent by the physical therapy agency to assess his mother's needs and condition before the actual therapist could be dispatched to begin her work, he thought.
At first, Isabelle didn't recognize him. Oh, she was aware that she was looking up at a tall, dark-haired, charmingly handsome man with a definite boyish streak going for himâand that he was giving her a very deep, thorough once-over almost down to her bonesâbut she didn't actually recognize his face for at least a good thirty seconds.
And then it suddenly clicked into place.
He was Brandon Slade.
Brandon Slade, author ofâat last countâten bestselling thrillers. And that was in addition to being the son of the movie icon she'd been sent to work with. She didn't know who she was more bowled over byâher client or her client's son.
In awe of Brandon Slade's talentâshe'd read every single one of his books at least once if not moreâand definitely not unaffected by his looks, Isabelle Sinclair felt as if she'd just won some kind of fortuitous celestial lottery.
So this is what you meant by saying “Happy Birthday” when you handed me this assignment, Zoe.
At the time, she'd just thought it was her sister's very strange sense of humor kicking in. Now she understood. She was being sent to the home of a writer she admired to work with his mother, an actress who had been her personal heroine when she'd been a child laid up in a hospital bed for an intolerable number of months, thanks to a car accident that had left everyone else with scratches and had all but broken every one of the bones in her bodyâor at least it had felt as if all her bones had been broken.
Watching Anastasia Del Vecchio take command of every situation she was in had provided her a vicarious thrillâand had ultimately given her a role model to attempt to emulate.
Since the woman in the doorway wasn't saying anything, Brandon asked, “May I help you?”
Oh, God, yes. In so many ways.
But, for the sake of decorum, she kept that response to herself, and instead, Isabelle smiled and said, “Actually, I'm here to help your mother, Mr. Slade.” Extending her hand to him, she introduced herself. “I'm Isabelle Sinclair. Helping Hands sent me. I'm the physical therapist.”
The response came out before he could stop it. “You're kidding.”
She looked at him a little uneasily, puzzled by his reaction. “No, I'm not. Why would I kid about something like that?”
This had foot-in-mouth written all over it, but he felt he had to at least try to talk his way out of it. “Shouldn't you be, you knowâ¦
” He used his hands to emphasize his point.
She smiled, and he immediately noticed that it was
one of those impossibly sunny smiles that seemed to light up a room. The kind of smile that came with its own wattage. Brandon caught himself smiling back.