The Billionaire's Matchmaker
An Anthology by Shirley Jump, Susan Meier, Jackie Braun and Barbara Wallace
Can a feisty four-legged matchmaker help four best friends find the romance of their dreams?
When a handsome man from Gabby’s past agrees to a cross-country road trip, her master plan to re-launch her art career quickly morphs into an unexpected, romantic reunion.
Marney’s 9-1-1 emergency help arrives in the form of a rugged, blue-eyed cop. Now she has the perfect bodyguard to keep her safe during those dark, steamy nights…
The last thing Mia wants is a relationship…yet the headstrong florist can’t keep her hands off her sexy-as-sin ex-boyfriend. Will she open her heart before he leaves town for good?
Jenny is a woman on a mission – she’ll even resort to dognapping to make her point! But can she teach a reclusive, emotionally-wounded tycoon that love heals all things?
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THE SHERIFF’S SECRET from THE BILLIONAIRE’S MATCHMAKER anthology
Unable to stop thinking about Dell O’Neil, Marney left work early and indulged in her other passion after jewelry design: cooking. Specifically, making her own pasta.
She worked for hours preparing sauce from scratch and perfect fettuccini noodles. After the first ten minutes of sauce prep, Charlie had deserted her, scampering away, she presumed, for another nap. But that was fine. She needed to be alone, to clear her head, to stop thinking about Dell O’Neil. He might be good-hearted, but he was bossy and controlling. And she’d had her fill of that with Doug. Everything he wanted came first. Everything she wanted came second. She’d be an idiot to give up her freedom for that.
As she finished straining the noodles, her doorbell rang.
She kissed a finger which had gotten in the way of some of the steam and called, “Just a minute!” With a quick wipe of her hands on an available dishtowel, she raced to the front door. She looked through the peephole, and there stood the very man she’d been thinking about all afternoon.
She groaned, but she couldn’t very well pretend she wasn’t home. The lights were on. Plus, he had Charlie in his arms. She opened the door.
He scratched Charlie behind the ears. “I think your dog likes me.”
“He was on my front stoop when I got home.”
“Oh! Sorry. I’ve been cooking all afternoon by myself, and I didn’t even notice him leave.” Fear shot through her. Good Lord, what the devil would they tell Mr. Bonaparte, one of the richest men in the world, if they lost his dog?
Dell smiled, his pretty blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “And here I just thought you’d sent him over to do reconnaissance.”
Irritation warmed her blood. Was he always going to accuse her of trying to get him to her house? After the way he’d behaved that morning and especially after he’d kissed her at the fund raiser, he still thought she was attracted to him?
Okay. The second argument didn’t work because she’d kissed him back. But he’d started that kiss. Still, what difference did it make? She’d lived in Chandler’s Cove for years and had never known him beyond his name, but suddenly she was seeing him every day.
Maybe fate kept throwing them together for a reason…
“Why don’t you stay for dinner?” The words were out of her mouth before the thought had fully formed.
Fate or no fate, she didn’t want Dell O’Neil thinking she was an idiot. If it killed her, she would prove to him she was just as decent, as nice, as normal—if not more normal, given that he had a secret—as he was.
“I’ve made enough for an army.” She gave him a self-depreciating smile. “Because I love to cook. Made the sauce from scratch and the pasta.”
“You made pasta from scratch?”
She presented her hands, wiggled the fingers. “I’m multi-talented.”
He frowned. “I am hungry.”
“I made extra.” She paused then said, “I heard about you saving Mrs. Baker this morning.”
“It’s part of the job.”
“Some people might say that. But it still takes a selfless person to do the job you do. And even though I’m just a humble jewelry designer, I’m not so bad, either. We got off on the wrong foot.”
“And you think spaghetti can fix that?”
“Fettuccini with Alfredo sauce that will make you weep and thank your maker.”
“Really?” His voice had taken on a more accommodating tone. He set Charlie down and followed her into the kitchen.
She grabbed some plates from the cupboard. “We’ll just eat at the center island, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all.” Shrugging out of his jacket, he sniffed the air. “Smells like heaven in here.”
They set the table companionably. He helped himself to a beer from her fridge. After she set his plate of Fettuccini Alfredo in front of him, he took a bite and groaned. “Wow.”
“See. Could a wicked, evil, secret-telling woman cook this well?”
He laughed. “Probably not.”
She dug into her pasta. “So tell me how a guy who loses all his money decides to become a small-town Sheriff?”
“It’s sort of a funny story…on me.”
“You’ve already got me sworn to secrecy.”
“When I graduated from college, my father said I had to do one of the four e’s … employment, education, enlist, or evacuate the family home.
She laughed. “Evacuate the family home?”
“My dad can get a bit theatrical.” He chuckled. “Anyway, being a smart ass and wanting to drive my dad crazy, I enlisted. After my dad exploded and I’d had my fun, I wanted to take it back, but the army wasn’t so accommodating, and they wouldn’t let me out of the commitment. They made me an MP and that got me through my time in Afghanistan okay, but it also taught me a lot. MP training was a lifesaver when I needed a new career. Now, I like the life I’ve built and don’t want to complicate it.” He caught her gaze. “Especially not with a relationship.”
There were so many questions she could have asked him—about his family, his ex—but since they were trying to get on a normal footing as neighbors, she ignored them in favor of a response that would make it clear she wasn’t a love-stuck idiot who intended to follow him around.
“Interesting. And fairly normal. Everybody’s life has something odd in it.”
“Oh, really? What’s your story?”
“Pretty much the same as yours. Crappy first marriage. And though we didn’t have a lot of property, Doug managed to get the condo. Still, my freedom was worth it.”
He laughed and clanked his beer glass against her wine glass. “To first marriages that teach big lessons.”
She raised her glass in toast. “Here, here.”
The whole conversation was fun until she caught his gaze to smile at him and their smiles faded simultaneously. She wasn’t exactly sure why his smile had faded but hers had disappeared because she realized why fate kept throwing them together. She liked him. They had enough in common that they understood each other. And unless she missed her guess, he now liked her, too.
Charlie trotted into the kitchen, his little paws making a clicking sound as he ambled over to her chair. He stopped, plopped his bottom on the floor and barked once at her. “Woof!”
Accustomed to talking to the dog as if he were a person, she almost answered him. Luckily, she caught herself and simply rose to get him some doggie treats.
Dell stood, too. “You cooked. I’ll clean up.”
Handing Charlie a treat, she shook her head. “I can’t let you do that. That wouldn’t be very hospitable.”
“What do you say we do it together?”
They stacked the dishes in the dishwasher, chatting a bit more. He made her laugh a time or two, and Marney’s stomach clenched. He was smart, funny, and very good looking. Not only that, but they shared a lot of similar experiences. Families who suffocated them. Exes who’d dumped them. And he really wasn’t bossy as much as incredibly sure of himself, confident in a way that was more sexy than manipulative. He really wasn’t like Doug at all.
But he didn’t want to get involved again. She’d invited him to dinner to rectify their former misconceptions. Wouldn’t it be counterproductive to try to start something that might make her look crazy again? Especially since he’d made it perfectly clear he didn’t want a relationship?
Of course it would.
Still, when they stood at her front door, close enough to touch, but not touching, her hormones sat on the edges of her skin, breathlessly awaiting a kiss that she knew wasn’t going to happen.
“Thank you for dinner.”
His soft, sensual voice sent goose bumps down her spine. “You’re welcome.”
He turned to open the door, but stopped and faced her again. His gray-blue eyes sparked with confusion. “I meant what I said about not wanting a relationship.”
“Neither of us should want a relationship anyway after our first failures.”
“I think my ex cured me of that.” But suddenly she didn’t feel like that. Her divorce had been nasty, but she was surprised to realize she was ready for another relationship. Plus, she and Dell had fun together when their attraction didn’t make them both nervous. She wouldn’t mind exploring where this would go.
He stepped close to her, slid his hand down her hair. “The hell of it is I like you.”
The breath that lodged in her throat prevented her from replying. He liked her? She’d guessed that but she never thought he’d admit it.
“We’d probably be perfect lovers.” He laughed. “God knows I’m attracted to you.”
Before she could even think of a response to that, he lowered his head and kissed her. His lips rubbed across hers, coaxing them open. Just like at the fund raiser, her head spun. Her bones dissolved. Her heart thundered in her chest.
His hands slid from her neck to her shoulders and down her back to her butt, sending rivers of molten need through her. He squeezed once, twice, then his hands drifted up her back, massaging until one drifted around front and found her breast.
Her nipples instantly hardened. Her breath stuttered out of her mouth, into his. Their kiss shifted from hot to super nova, their tongues mating frantically.
And then he pulled away.
The world vibrated around her for thirty seconds before she realized he stood there staring at her.
“I want to sleep with you.” He sucked in a breath. “But you wouldn’t like my terms. No strings. No commitments. It’s awfully hard to have that in a small town unless both of us are ready to be so discreet even our friends don’t know what we’re doing.”
Then he opened the door and left.
She combed her fingers through her hair. What the hell was that? How was she supposed to sleep now?
Every hormone she had was on red alert. The man was potent. Like a drug. And ninety-nine-point-nine percent of her wanted to throw caution to the wind and spend a glorious night in bed with him.
What was left—a tenth of one percent—saw his point. Basically, they were incredibly attracted strangers, people who lived in the same small town where gossip could ruin a person who wasn’t careful. Plus, he didn’t want anything beyond a sexual relationship. And she didn’t jump into bed just for fun.
No wonder he’d stopped. There was no way in hell they’d be able to have a relationship.
So, if her mind was so sure, why did her body still tingle from that kiss?