Meet Your Mate

Chapter One

“And the winner of this year’s Community First award is—” Annabel heightened the imaginary suspense with a mental drum roll as she pulled into the local television station’s parking lot. Beelining for an empty spot at the end of the row, she allowed hometown favorite George Clooney to announce, “Challenging Destiny, Lasting Productions, Annabel Morgan and Howard Lasting, producers!”

Normally, she only conjured up her favorite career fantasy in dark and private moments, but today she’d paraded it out in bright sunlight to distract herself from a raging case of stage fright. After all, she didn’t appear on an afternoon talk show every day. Or in front of a television camera ever. Her nerves were stretched tighter than her budget.

Easing through the tandem parking slot from one side to the other, she pictured herself at the upcoming award ceremony. Dressed to impress in something sophisticated and expensive, she’d step up to accept the award that would change her life. Just as George took her in his arms for a meaningful exchange of glances and a long congratulatory kiss filled with infinite possibilities, a sickening crunch jolted her back to reality.

The front bumper of her ten-year-old Saab was metal-on-metal with a small, flashy vehicle attempting to back into the space she’d been sliding into headfirst.

Grimacing over her carelessness and the certainty of another insurance claim on the heels of her seventeen-year-old stepdaughter’s mishap the month before. Annabel shifted her car into park. She clutched the hem of her mini-skirt to keep it from rising to indecent heights as she stepped out to meet her victim. Good thing it was May, not January, or she’d freeze her butt off.

“Hey, lady,” a testosterone-laden voice growled over the slam of a car door. “You should keep your mind on your driving when you’re behind the wheel.”

Fresh from her bout of daydreaming, Annabel bit back the urge to tell the chauvinist where to stick his opinion. She glanced at the slight crease in her fender and the deeper dent in his, relieved that the damage hadn’t been worse. Shoulders squared, she turned to exchange info with the other driver and admit her guilt.

Damn. Investigative reporter ‘Mad Max’ Williams. An apology died on her lips. Even though he worked at the television station, he spent most of his time out on assignment. She’d hoped she wouldn’t run into him today. And now she had. Literally.

She crossed her arms and studied him with a chilling look. Professional acquaintances and personal opposites in work habits and lifestyles, he was her biggest rival for the community service award she coveted.

Aside from their award competition, she’d worked with him on several projects for Lasting Productions. Her work involved insignificant details like scriptwriting, casting, editing, and scheduling. His duties included the more challenging tasks of sitting in a booth and recording the voiceover, flirting with female assistants, distracting male interns with assorted hijinks, generally creating chaos, getting paid the big bucks, and receiving most of the recognition.

Everything about his flamboyant image and overbearing self-confidence rubbed her the wrong way. It annoyed her to admit that the broad shoulders and rugged good looks the television camera loved were even more compelling in person than they were on the small screen. But the less-than savory details she’d witnessed and heard about from others prevented her from lusting after the exterior packaging that rivaled Clooney’s.

Smoothing down her skirt, she waited for Max’s leisurely perusal to move from her new pointy-toed high-heeled shoes and past her uncustomary form-fitting outfit to her face. As expected, the interested gleam dimmed from his eyes and switched to disbelief as recognition kicked in.

“Nice legs, Morgan. First time I’ve seen you in anything but your Iron Maiden costume. You should show that figure off more often.” He lounged against the hood of her car and let his gaze travel her body a second time. “This new look is almost enough to excuse you from rear-ending me. But not quite. What had you so distracted?”

“What do you mean?” Like she’d be willing to share her hopes and dreams with him.

“You sure weren’t thinking about your driving, and you couldn’t have been preoccupied with your love life since everyone knows you don’t have one.”

“Whereas you,” she countered, poking a finger into his rock-solid chest, “were probably thinking about the bevy of mud wrestlers, rodeo queens, and strippers you’re currently dating.”

“Hey!” He straightened up with mild indignation. “Candy LaBar’s not a stripper. She’s an exotic dancer. Her act’s very artistic.”

Already running late, Annabel didn’t have time to trade childish insults with Max. She dismissed the response with a flick of the wrist. “I’ll bet.”

He whipped his phone out, then took pictures of the damage to both bumpers. As she stepped toward the television station’s main entrance, his fingers clamped around her elbow. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” He jerked a thumb toward his car. “Damage? Repair? Insurance?”

“It’s just a scratch.”

He shook his head at her dismissive attitude. “It’s just a scratch on the bumper of a vintage Porsche I’ve spent two years restoring. Whether they fix it or replace the bumper, it’s not going to come cheap.”

That figured. “I’ll have my insurance company contact you.”

“They better, or I’ll send the repair bill straight to you.”

“Fine, fine.” Annabel marched forward, eager to leave Mad Max behind. But he fell into step alongside her with his customary swagger.

“By the way,” he said, “congratulations on the Community First nomination.”

She slid a peek at him from the corner of her eye and examined his comment for sarcasm. His expression remained suspiciously sincere. “You, too.”

“Who’d have thought we’d be nominated in the same category?”

“Not me. The mind still boggles over my documentary about inner-city high school students competing with your four-part exposé on botched boob jobs.”

“That’s one way of describing them,” he said before urging, “Just remember what they say.”

“What do they say, Max? Sex sells?” Why does he always manage to bring out my inner bitch?

“No-oo. It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

She coated the smile she turned on him with pure sugar. “You remember that when they call out my name from the podium.” She prayed they’d call out her name. Her professional and financial future hinged on winning the award.

“Yeah, right. I’ve got the award all but in my hands.” He raised her show of bravado with an ante of overconfidence.

“And how many judges did you sleep with to make that happen?” The accusation almost shamed her as she made it.

“Talent earns its own reward.” A glint of real pride moved behind his dark brown eyes as he veered away from her, toward the news team’s entrance. “See ya later, Morgan.”

“Not if I see you first,” Annabel muttered to his retreating back.

Against her better judgment, she watched him stride masterfully toward the building. Then, he looked over his shoulder and caught her watching him. Lifting her chin, she turned to glide into the main entrance. Her face flushed when she twisted her ankle on the new heels. Damn, he probably saw that.

Putting the incident behind her, she hurried into the lobby where Carly waited. Her stepdaughter bounced in anticipation of their joint television appearance. A quick hug went a long way toward banishing Max from Annabel’s thoughts and quelling her preshow anxiety. “Been waiting long?”

“Long enough to find out everything we need to know.” Excitement widened Carly’s bright blue eyes to saucer-size. “First, sign in here, then follow me.”

Annabel had visited the station many times and knew her way around, but she allowed the bouncing teen to lead her the makeup room anyway. After they’d settled into chairs, an energetic elf with purple-streaked hair introduced herself as “Voila!” then set to work. She dabbed foundation on their faces, swiped blush on their cheeks, and applied goop to their eyes.

“Not so much, please.” Annabel pushed Voila’s hand away. She didn’t want to look like a clown, and Carly’s fresh appeal didn’t need much enhancement.

Voila frowned. “You’ll look washed out without it.”

“You know she’s right,” Carly agreed. “And I want you to look awesome. Please?” Her stepdaughter’s coaxing did the trick after the makeup artist’s opinion had failed to win Annabel over.

Voila hurried to apply a few finishing touches. Annabel assessed her reflection in the mirror then blotted off a coat of shiny magenta lipstick. She tugged the lapels of her snug teal jacket together. As soon as she released them, they separated into a wide V that exposed the barely-there cleavage created by her new push-up bra.

“I don’t know how you talked me into buying this suit. I’m touched by the attempt to update my image, but I have plenty of other, more suitable clothes.”

“More boring, you mean.” Carly brushed Annabel’s hands away from the lapels. “You’ll be in front of a camera instead of hiding behind one for a change. You should wear something that makes you look young and hot, instead of old and frigid.”

“She’s right, you know. Let’s take your hair down to really boost your image.” Voila pulled pins out of the bun at the base of Annabel’s neck.

“No.” Annabel covered her hair with her hands to keep Voila’s busy fingers out of it. “It’s too curly and flies around when it’s not pulled back.”

“Hmmm.” Voila cocked her head and considered for a moment before sweeping Annabel’s locks into a French twist with just a few loose tendrils. The style softened the angles of her face and enhanced the shape of her light-gray eyes.

If her stepdaughter weren’t sitting right there beside her with Carly’s own brand of youthful, natural beauty, Annabel wouldn’t have recognized herself.

“You look gorgeous,” Carly enthused as they made their way to the green room next door. “Super hot!”

“You look fabulous, too.” Annabel pulled the girl’s long French-braid in front of her shoulder as they stepped into the waiting room. “But we’re going on a program to discuss successful stepparent/stepchild relationships. We’re not trolling for guys on the internet.”

“Close enough,” murmured a pencil-thin woman nibbling a carrot stick by the snack table.

As they took seats on a lumpy sofa, Carly refused to meet Annabel’s eyes. Never a good sign. Annabel studied the seven other sets of parent/teen duos.

While a couple of parents glanced at her curiously, the others flicked pitying looks her way. None of the teenagers managed to look her in the eye.

A wary tingle replaced stage fright as the reason for her damp palms. “Close enough to what?”

Before anyone responded, a chipper production assistant buzzed in, wearing a headset and clasping an electronic tablet. “My name’s Justine. On behalf of Tess Hartley, I’d like to welcome all of you to Let’s Talk. We’re going to open with the kids on camera. If you’d head that way, please…” She motioned the younger group toward the door. “I’ll come back for the parents shortly.”

Carly squeezed Annabel’s hand. The teenager’s excitement fizzed palpably between them like a carbonated cola.

“Good luck, Anna,” Carly whispered. “Please don’t be mad,” she added before slipping away.

Don’t be mad? That simple plea put Annabel’s parental alarm system on full alert. She was all too familiar with the way the high-spirited girl’s best intentions frequently misfired. “Mad about what?”

From the doorway, Carly flashed a mischievous smile and escaped with the other teenagers. Except for the gurgle of an espresso machine in the corner, the room swirled with awkward silence. Annabel thought of all the editing waiting for her back at the production studio and longed for the safety of her ordinary routine.

A military-type with ramrod-straight posture and square jaw stopped at the end of the sofa. “When you came in,” he said, “I wasn’t sure if you were a parent or one of the kids.”

The flattery tickled Annabel. Only fourteen years older than Carly, people occasionally guessed they were sisters. But she couldn’t imagine anyone mistaking her for a teenager. Maybe the kick-ass outfit Carly chose for her had shaved off some years.

“Stepparent.” She glanced around the room, trying to interpret the spike in atmosphere. “Aren’t we all?

A couple of “Not me’s” mingled with one “I am.”

“What’s going on here?” she asked GI Joe.

He nodded toward a monitor where the smiling face of Cincinnati’s answer to Oprah filled the screen. “Watch and learn.”

Tess Hartley let her lively theme song and the audience’s applause fade away before she introduced the day’s episode. “Today on Let’s Talk, we’re going to meet a group of caring teens who are concerned about their single parents.”

Concerned! The word bounced around inside Annabel’s head like a loose basketball on a gym floor. Why would Carly be concerned about her? Discomfort plummeted into downright dread.

“Through death, divorce, or abandonment,” Tess continued, “all of these high-school seniors live in single-parent households. As they prepare to leave home for the first time, they worry about their parents’ lonely futures. Isn’t that sweet?”

Tess’s audience agreed with enthusiastic applause, but Annabel didn’t think sweet accurately described it. In the green room, the knowing nods of some parents and the shocked expressions of others who’d been duped confirmed her assessment.

“Please, join me while they—” Tess paused and gestured for the studio audience to join in the recitation of the show’s well-known tag line “—tell Tess about it.”

Justine reappeared in the green room, buzzing along just as hyper and efficient as before. But now, she looked more sheepish than capable. “In case you haven’t figured it out, some of you are here under false pretenses. There’s nothing illegal or unethical going on. The kids are really excited. But if any of you prefer not to participate, you need to let me know now—before we get too far into the taping.”

Well, that gave them plenty of leeway. Annabel swallowed hard and found her voice. “What exactly have they gotten us into? A televised ambush?”

“They’re playing matchmaker,” the anorexic woman said, practically rubbing her hands together in anticipation. “I can’t wait to see who I get fixed up with.”

“Matchmaker?” Annabel picked up her purse, ready to head for the door.

“That’s right,” Justine confirmed. “Last week, all of them interviewed potential partners from a pool of prescreened, preapproved applicants. They each handpicked someone for their single parent to go out with on one or two dates arranged by and recorded for a future episode of Let’s Talk. Their choices are here to meet you today.”

“What kind of dates?” Annabel asked.

“Whatever you and your arranged partner want. You’ll each get to name your perfect evening, and the show will foot the bills—within reason. No flying to New York or Paris, but anything local will be fine.”

“I plan on going to The Precinct,” GI Joe chimed in. Although the steakhouse wouldn’t be Annabel’s choice, a flurry of laughter and hoots of agreement followed the mention of one of Cincinnati’s most expensive restaurants.

“You can decide on your destinations later.” Justine’s gaze flicked to the clock on the wall and then settled on the monitor. “But you’ll need to make up your minds quickly about appearing.”

Out in the studio, the camera panned the line of fledgling matchmakers. Just as Annabel opened her mouth to refuse, the camera zeroed in on Carly and focused on her blonde good looks. In that moment, Annabel forgot the trick the girl had played and felt a thrill of pride at her stepdaughter’s composure. She glowed as Carly spilled the beans about Annabel.

“She’s my stepmom. My dad got custody of me when my biological mother left us. He married Annabel when I was nine, and after he died three years ago, I stayed with her. My birth mom is awesome in a fairy godmother kind of way, but she’s not very good with, um, details.” A smile curled the corners of Carly’s mouth. “Annabel’s the one who’s always tucked me in, taken me to the dentist, soccer games and piano recitals. You know, all that Mom-and-responsibility stuff.”

“Does she work outside the home?” Tess asked.

“Oh, yeah, she’s a documentary editor for a local production company. A project she worked on is nominated for some big award.” Carly paused before confiding, “She’s so proud that I plan to go to medical school eventually, but except for me, her work’s all she’s got. I’m afraid she’ll use it as an excuse not to get a real life after I leave for college next fall.”

Not true! Annabel had lots of other things and people in her life. Didn’t she? Hmmm, maybe not.

She cringed as the little blabbermouth ratted her out to the entire tri-state area. Maybe if she’d informed Carly about her plans for the future, this fiasco could have been avoided.

Truthfully, after all the responsibilities she’d handled over the years, Annabel yearned for an exciting, carefree life of her own.

She loved her stepdaughter and enjoyed her company, but Annabel looked forward to the graduating teen’s departure with more anticipation than dread. As soon as Carly left for Ohio State, Annabel planned to cut loose and make her own dreams come true.

Some of her plans involved work goals, sure, but they also included increasing her social life. All right, make that developing a social life. With an all-new, daring, and spontaneous attitude, she wanted to flit off to a weekend in Belize… go skydiving… date guys with tattoos.

Since she didn’t want Carly feeling as if Annabel itched to get rid of her, she hadn’t mentioned any of her secret desires to her stepdaughter. But now Annabel could see the advantages of opening up a bit more. She’d remedy that issue immediately after today’s show.

Carly’s sweet gesture revealed a misguided need to repay Annabel for her love, and Annabel would never hurt the girl’s feelings by refusing the gesture. She considered the possibility of easing herself into her new ready-for-anything persona with two vetted, chaperoned, on-camera dates. How bad could they be?

Smothering a sense of impending doom, she summoned her courage long enough to sign the release forms Justine handed to her. Within moments, she found herself taking a deep breath and stepping center stage. Her eyes adjusted to the glaring lights while she waited for her cue.

“Carly took great care in choosing a man who shares common interests with her stepmother. You’ll recognize him as WKLK’s most popular and handsome investigative reporter. These two already know one another, but let’s see if sparks fly when they’re paired up for romance.” Tess and the camera turned toward Annabel. “Let’s Talk is pleased to welcome Annabel Morgan and her lucky date, Max Williams!”

The introduction barely registered in Annabel’s head before a tall, muscular form bounded out from stage right. He turned her with a hand on her arm and planted a kiss on her check.

Stunned, she reared back to confirm her misfortune. The shock in his eyes mirrored hers.

Under cover of the applause, they objected in unison, “Not you!”


The following Saturday night, Max arrived on Annabel’s front porch in Hyde Park. With his favorite cameraman in tow, he looked around at one of Cincinnati’s oldest and stodgiest neighborhoods. Sturdy brick houses lined the quiet, residential street. Subdued shutters bordered windows with overflowing flower boxes. Tidy yards sported geometric mower grids. Traditional, conservative, established, and settled. All things Max preferred to avoid.

Grinding his teeth, he cursed his current circumstances and the unapologetic people responsible for it. If given the chance, he’d banish meddlesome teenage girls to a world without cell phones or teenage boys.

He’d blast Tess Hartley to an unending life of flat hair, tabloid journalism, and bad ratings.

He’d send all judgmental, uninteresting women to an island far, far away, where they could bore one another to death with their rules, restrictions, and lack of original thoughts.

And he’d reserve a special circle of hell composed of angry advertisers, prolonged power outages, and drunken weathermen for Charley Asherton, the usually-sensible station manager who had included Max’s name in a pool of eligible bachelors for Let’s Talk without notifying him first.

How he’d let Tess and Charley talk him into participating in such an asinine waste of time, Max couldn’t explain. He’d thought it a joke when he received the message to appear for the first-round interviews. But he hadn’t stood a chance against the innocent wiles and harmless demeanor of the young girl who singled him out. If he’d known she’d matched him up with Ms. Frostbite of Cincinnati, he would have pulled a no-show for the actual program.

Tess would pay for this. Due to their brief, steam-up-the-sheets, personal history half-a-dozen years ago, he’d expected her to let him out of his arranged date. When a conspiratorial smile and the promise of a future favor hadn’t worked, he explained that Annabel didn’t want to go out with him any more than he wanted to go out with her.

The ratings-minded diva just laughed and insisted he keep his part of the bargain. She’d even had the nerve to goad him over the fact that he’d finally met a woman who didn’t worship at his feet. Tess had also suggested he look on winning Annabel over as a challenge—one the show would pay for and record—as the “relationship” unfolded. Relationship, hell. Disaster was more like it. And Tess had licked her glossy lips over the possibility.

Ever conscious of the camera, the reporter in Max erased the scowl and put on his game face. He shot the sleeves of his suit into place, then smoothed his hair and straightened his frigging tie.

“Quit primping, Casanova, you look fine,” Roger said from behind him. He lifted the video-camera to his eye. “Now, ring the bell. No, wait. The doorknocker seems more forceful, more masculine. Use that.”

“More masculine.” Max snorted but banged the knocker as instructed. “Masculinity’s wasted on Annabel. Why do smart women like her favor those limp-wristed sensitive types who drink lattes and go to poetry readings?”

“Why do you care what kind of men she likes?”

“I don’t. I’m just saying, she’s not my type.”

“Yeah, I can see why the combination of smart, nice, gorgeous, and talented wouldn’t work for you,” the cameraman muttered.

When the door swung open, Max faced the beaming teenager who’d gotten him into this mess.

“You’re here!” Carly clapped her hands.

Despite his annoyance, Max grinned at her enthusiasm. “Hey, kid. How’s it going?”

She peered over his shoulder to the street, then leaned out the door to view the driveway. His Jeep Cherokee elicited a frown. “Where’s the limo?”

With the Porsche in the shop, he’d been tempted by the station’s offer of transportation, but he hated that kind of fancy crap. Besides, he and Annabel weren’t two pimply-faced, sweaty-palmed teenagers on the way to the prom. “I prefer to drive myself.”

Carly planted her hands on her hips. “But what about what Anna prefers?”

“When we talked yesterday, I asked her if she wanted to show off with a car and driver.” He shrugged. “She said she didn’t care.”

“Well, if you put it that way, what else could she say?” She glared at him with disapproval. “Besides, I care. I want this to be so special for her.”

“Maybe next time, kid.” Of course, there would be no such event. The terms of the show indicated he could dictate when and where they went on their second date, if he wanted to see her again. In a rare moment of agreement, he and Annabel had decided this would be a one-shot deal. She would have to be the one to break the news to Little Ms. Blue Eyes here.

Carly accepted the disappointment with a grudging sigh. “Come on in, then. Anna’s almost ready.”

He stepped across the threshold of the Morgan home, suppressing the urge to sneeze. The place smelled like a damn flower shop. Fresh roses decorated a table in the foyer. Potpourri sat in little dishes around the living room. They probably even sprayed the air with floral perfume.

In about two minutes, he’d break out in hives from the cloying scent combined with the rampant middle-class-values decor. Family pictures lined the mantle in the living room. Knick-knacks rested on frilly lace things. He’d bet his Porsche that coasters bloomed automatically under every beverage.

Structured, neat, and fragrant, a reflection of Annabel herself.

Everything in the house whispered its good taste in monotonous neutrals. Nice, he supposed, if he went in for this sort of Boy Meets World, mom, and apple-pie hominess.

Which he didn’t.

Not that he had any reason to dislike sitcom-perfect domesticity. But growing up without a mother present, he’d never experienced it. This whole scene existed as the polar opposite of his childhood and adulthood. Both had teemed with loud and boisterous chaos.

He’d never lived anywhere that remotely resembled this house or neighborhood, and he’d never dated a woman with as little fire and flash as Annabel.

Roger trailed him inside. “Would you go out and come back in again? The lighting in here isn’t what I expected.”

“Forget it,” Max said. “We’re not staging anything or doing any retakes.”

“If you’re willing to settle for a pasty image that makes you look like one of The Walking Dead, fine by me.”

Annabel’s stepdaughter chewed on her thumbnail and creased her forehead as she eyed Roger from head to sneaker. Max empathized with her concerns about the two-hundred-twenty-pound free spirit sporting a ponytail, eyebrow piercing, forearm tattoos, scruffy jeans, and a concert T-shirt. He attempted to set her at ease. “Roger’s the chaperone-slash-shooter for tonight. Even though he’s misguided enough to worship the Dave Matthews Band instead of real rock ‘n’ roll, he’s harmless when he’s not obsessing about things like camera angles and lighting.”

“If you say so.” Carly took a small step back, as if reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt. “Please take a seat in the living room. Anna said to offer you something to drink and let her know when you got here.”

A footstep at the top of the stairs alerted Max to his date’s presence before he could decline the offer. In spite of himself, he watched Annabel descend.

A nervous smile flickered and softened her expression before it dimmed and faded into the more familiar lines of stern disapproval. And he hadn’t even done anything to annoy her yet. That he knew of.

Roger stepped forward. He adjusted the camera to zoom in and capture her entrance.

Waiting at the foot of the stairs, Max assessed her appearance. She’d reverted to full-on Ice-Princess mode. Black suit jacket buttoned up to her chin, and skirt hem hanging down past her knees. Sensible, boxy looking shoes. Hair slicked back so tightly at the nape of her neck he was surprised her eyes didn’t cross.

“Anna, I thought you were going to wear your hair down.” Carly’s artless comment inserted a drop of sweetness into the awkward moment.

Annabel smoothed her fingers over the sides of her hair, as if to harness any rebellious strands that dared to escape from their prison. “I’m more comfortable with it up.”

“You look gorgeous.” Roger panned the camera between the woman and girl. He nudged Max in the ribs, then pulled back to record Max and Annabel’s first greeting. “Doesn’t she look gorgeous? Give her a little kiss.”

Max’s gaze skimmed over Annabel’s body again. The classy, understated style suited her. Too prim and proper for my taste. Although the suit did hug her figure nicely. The slit up one side of her skirt showed an enticing bit of shapely leg and thigh when she walked. And that mouth with the peek-a-boo smile playing around the edges almost begged for a kiss.

But the expression of alarm that crossed her face sure didn’t. Or the backpedaling she employed as he reached for her.

“Oh, my.” She fluttered her fingers like crazed bats. “I guess I’m not very good on this side of the camera.”

“Just pretend I’m not here,” Roger said as if it would be possible to overlook a supersized gorilla with a forty-thousand-dollar camera glued to his face.

“Then quit trying to direct everything,” Max told him. “Just let things happen. And don’t worry,” he said to Annabel. “I’ll make him stay ten paces behind us at all times.”

“No, no, he’s fine. He’s just doing his job. Getting a taste of my own medicine will make me more sympathetic to my subjects in the future.” She flashed the cameraman an elusive smile.

She excluded Max from the offering of goodwill. Okay, he got the message. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “You ready to go?”

“Yes.” She turned to retrieve some kind of flimsy wrap from the closet. “Do you know where we’re going?”

“Nope. I was only told where and when to show up—and what to wear.” He pulled at the knot on his necktie again. Damn thing. He hated having to wear one on his day off.

“We have a reservation at Ernesto’s at six.”

Ernesto’s. The kind of restaurant Max tended to dodge. A stuffy, over-priced, pretentious place in Mt. Adams that served prissy little portions of nouvelle cuisine. Sighing, he resigned himself to the choice and tried not to yawn.

“From there, we’ll go to the symphony. I hope you like Wagner.”

He chuckled, assuming she was kidding. But when he checked, her expression revealed nothing but seriousness. “Wagner? Really?”

“His music’s quite stimulating. My husband and I used to have season tickets for the symphony. I gave them up when he—” She stopped and bit her lip. “I gave them up a few years ago.”

The symphony. Stimulating? Ri-ight. She must be older than he guessed. What decade had she been born in anyway? Oh, well, maybe he could catch up on his sleep.

And he’d given up his poker night for this.

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