Today we visit with romance author
Please enjoy Chapter One from the multi-author book The Matchmakers Series available now, A Match Made in Freedom:
by Lisa Belcastro
“This Island is too small.” Stephanie Gould slammed the door and stormed across the floor of her store and escaped into her private design studio.
A minute later, her shop manager Zoey Pierce peeked in the studio door. “Everything okay, Steph?”
Okay? No, definitely not.
Her emotions swinging from hurt to anger, Stephanie drew in a deep breath. “I stopped in the bakery to pick us up some croissants, and who do I see? Tim and Kay, that’s who.”
“Oh, wow. I didn’t know they were back.”
Stephanie, fit and lean in faded jeans and a lavender blouse, paced behind her drying table, eying the four necklaces waiting to be polished before they’d be moved to a showcase in the store. Kay had been wearing a beige dress accented by a stunning sea glass necklace of greens and blues. At least the necklace wasn’t one of hers.
“Oh, they’re back, all tan and happy from their honeymoon. I was next to order when I heard Tim talking from the back of the line. Two years of dating him, and I’d recognize his voice if I was blindfolded.” She’d recognize a lot about him, but she hadn’t expected to feel so angry. Or hurt.
“Did he speak to you?”
Stephanie flinched. “Of course. ‘Hey, Steph. How you been?’ As if he were my friend, as if I wanted to speak with him. Kay just stood there looking smiley and happy, not a visible sign of remorse or a fraction of guilt.”
“What can I get you? Tea? Chocolate? A gun and an alibi?” Zoey drew an imaginary gun from her hip and pretended to fire.
Her manager had read one too many crime novels, but the action gave Stephanie a brief chuckle. “I’ll leave the guns and revenge to you and your murder mysteries. I had all I could do to walk out without tossing a few choice words at them. I love living on Martha’s Vineyard. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But sometimes the hundred square miles are not enough.”
“I hope you thanked Kay for cheating with your fiancé before you married him. Let Tim cheat on her now that they’re living in wedded bliss.” Zoey snapped her fingers.
Stephanie knew Zoey was right. Better to find out that Tim was a two-timer before they had a home and children. But the searing pain in her chest wasn’t lessened by that knowledge.
Had it really been five months since she’d walked into the crafting studio to find Tim and Kay locked in what was nothing short of a passionate embrace? She hadn’t seen that one coming. Kay Salazar had been her partner in From the Sea Designs, and she’d thought they were friends. She’d thought wrong.
In one day, she’d lost her fiancé and her business partner. She didn’t want him back, not as her husband or even as a friend, but this morning’s meeting revealed there was still pain residing in her heart. Why wasn’t healing as easy as the pop songs made it sound?
“I said you should get away. Take a vacation. Go to a spa and relax. Get pampered.”
“That sounds miserable. What would I do all day?” Frowning at the thought of being subjected to hours of manicures, pedicures, and hair appointments, Stephanie shuddered. She picked up a large piece of green sea glass from the workbench and ran her finger around the smooth edges.
Zoey, blond hair perfectly coiffed and a French manicure on her fingernails, laughed. “Right, I forgot who I was talking to. How about a visit to the Berkshires? You haven’t seen JoJo in two months and your family would be overjoyed to have you visit for more than forty-eight hours.”
The Berkshires. Childhood memories brought a smile to her face. Western Massachusetts was beautiful in October. Joanne Homlish, or JoJo, her best friend since first grade and her college roommate throughout their years at the Rhode Island School of Design, had been raving about the great fall colors this year. She could help JoJo in the gardens at her bed and breakfast, spend an afternoon or two at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and go running in the mornings around Stockbridge Bowl and the Lily Pond. Stephanie also wanted to spend a little quality time with her grandmother NeNe and cousin Libby, if those two world travelers weren’t off jet setting.
Stephanie wasn’t one to leave the Island during the perfect fall weather, but a little time away might clear her head and give her a bit of inspiration for the Christmas line she wanted to create.
“Excellent idea, Zoey.” Stephanie put the sea glass on the table and walked over to her appointment book. “Can you handle things here? I’ll only go for a couple of days, maybe a long weekend.”
Her manager waved her off. “Forget a couple of days. Go for a week or two. I’ve got you covered.”
Twenty-four hours later, Stephanie drove off the Island Home ferry, and began the three-hour drive to Stockbridge. She turned up the radio and tuned out her thoughts.
The traffic was light for a Sunday, and hours passed easily. Her cell phone rang while she was belting out TobyMac’s “Move (Keep Walkin’),” and the hands-free system in her SUV turned off the music and switched to her phone.
“Where are you?” JoJo asked.
“I just passed Exit 3.”
“Great. You’ll be here for lunch. Want to meet in town at the Red Lion Inn and eat in the Tavern?”
Stephanie’s mouth watered as she thought about the Tavern’s Eggs Benedict served on the best buttermilk biscuits north of the Mason-Dixon Line. “You know my weakness. I’ll be there in forty-five minutes.”
Driving along Route 102, the leaves on the trees defined fall in New England — brilliant reds, burnt oranges, and deep yellows interspersed with forest green pines. They were beautiful. Stephanie rolled down the window and breathed in the crisp fall air. She couldn’t wait to go for a run tomorrow morning, which she would undoubtedly need after a hearty lunch and whatever gourmet meal JoJo would serve for dinner.
The parking along Main Street in Stockbridge was bumper to bumper. Stephanie made a left onto Route 7, another left onto Laurel Lane, and then left again onto Elm Street to circle back toward the restaurant. Finally, she saw someone walking toward a truck.
She slowed to a stop and waited for his parking spot. The guy didn’t start his engine. She glanced at the clock. A car passed her. What was he doing? Forty-five seconds passed. Couldn’t he see her? She pulled up alongside the black pickup, two minutes and counting.
Rolling down the passenger-side window, Stephanie leaned over and waved to get his attention. He was talking on his cell phone. Annoying, but safer than holding the phone, talking, and driving. He glanced over and held up one finger.
A safe driver and good looking. He flashed her a smile. Definitely good looking. With short black hair, kind eyes, full lips, and wearing a jean jacket and flannel shirt, this man had “country boy” written all over him. Except, his posture was formal and there was an air of authority to him as he spoke into the phone. Stephanie couldn’t hear a word he said, but he appeared to be in charge of the conversation.
About a minute went by, and Country Boy rolled down his window. “Sorry ‘bout that. What can I do for you, ma’am?”
Did he just call her ma’am? She was only twenty-nine years old. Why was a guy who couldn’t be much older than she calling her ma’am? She didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended.
“I’m looking for a parking spot.” Stephanie said, stating the obvious, or so one would think.
“Oh, right. Been a while.” His expression was more confused than apologetic.
“No problem. I saw you were on the phone. Are you leaving now?”
“That all depends.”
He stared at her. “If you’ll agree to have dinner with me.”
“What?” The word came out harsher than she’d intended. “I don’t know who you are. For all I know, you’re a serial killer.”
He threw his head back and laughed. “My mother would be insulted.”
“I doubt your mother would be as upset as mine would be if I turned up dead.” Why was she having this conversation?
He opened the door to his truck, stepped out, and reached a hand into her open window. My, oh my, he was one fine looking man. She really should hit the gas pedal, but she’d probably run him over.
“Captain Henry Lewis. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
A police officer. That explained the “ma’am,” and his formal tone and stance. Stephanie reached over and shook his hand. “Stephanie Gould. Nice to meet you officer.”
“About that dinner. I lost a bet —”
“Ah, not the best pick up line, Captain Lewis.”
“Probably not. Let me start again. If I don’t have a date by tomorrow night, I have to attend some singles speed dating event this Saturday.”
It was Stephanie’s turn to laugh. “I’ve heard a few come-ons in my life, but that one is a first. So tell me, Captain Lewis, how could anyone force you to go to a speed dating thing?”
“As I said, I lost a bet.” His matter-of-fact response was devoid of humor and not the least bit amused.
Steph was entertained nonetheless. “You bet someone that you could, or couldn’t, get a stranger to go out with you?”
“No. I bet a buddy that I would beat him in last week’s 5K road race. He failed to mention that he’d been training in sprints.”
Now she was truly interested. Betting on running, or pretty much anything to do with running, grabbed her attention. “What was his time?”
“Dang.” Steph smacked the steering wheel. “Nice pace. Running less than seven-minute miles. I do my speed workouts on Wednesdays, but I’m not that fast.”
“You run?” he asked, appreciation gleaming in his dark brown eyes.
“Five days a week, maybe six or seven.” Truth was, she ran outside or worked out on the elliptical seven days a week. It was the best stress reliever on the planet.
“Have dinner with me. Please. If you have a miserable time, you can run home.”
Funny, too. But there was no way she was going out with him. “As tempting as that sounds, I’m not interested in dating. I’d still like to have your parking spot though.” Stephanie batted her eyelashes for effect.
His smile faltered for a second. “Can’t blame a guy for trying. Let me get out of your way.”
“Thanks, and good luck with your speed dating. Don’t get a ticket.” Stephanie chuckled at her joke.
He saluted her. “You’re all heart, beautiful.”
Stephanie hustled to the restaurant, mulling over the “beautiful” comment. JoJo was waiting for her outside and wrapped her in a long hug. “Where have you been? I saw you drive by ten minutes ago.”
“There must be something in the water here. I asked a guy for his parking spot, thinking he was getting ready to leave, and he asked me for a date.”
“That’s priceless.” JoJo looped her arm through Stephanie’s and led her toward the stairs. “Who was it?”
“Are you kidding me? You want to know who it was? Shouldn’t we be thinking the guy might have a screw loose?”
“Maybe, but not until I find out if I know him.”
“He said his name was Captain Lewis.”
JoJo’s eyes widened. “As in Henry Lewis?”
“Great! You know him?”
“Everybody knows Henry. Please tell me you said yes.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Wasn’t happening. He said he lost a bet, and it was date me or attend a speed-dating event. I wished him luck with the speed dating.”
A strange look, mischievous or perhaps devious, crossed JoJo’s face. “Funny you should mention that.”
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About The Matchmakers – 3 Story Set
Ellie Alexander is in love. The only thing sweeter would be if Libby, Natalie, and Stephanie, her three unmarried, unattached granddaughters, could find the same happiness. Maybe with a little help from her and her beau Blake Parker.
A Match Made in Williamstown — Libby Schuyler has avoided dating since her break-up with college-sweetheart Jack Parker. Out of nowhere, Jack shows up claiming her grandmother is swindling his grandfather, Blake, through a travel agency partnership they’ve formed. Libby and Jack team up to get to the bottom of Ellie and Blake’s business and romantic relationship. While Libby and Jack fight their reignited attraction, Ellie and Blake conspire to bring the two together.
A Match Made in Sheffield — Natalie Benton bounced from one foster home to another until she landed on Ellie Alexander’s doorstep. Her vagabond childhood caused her to yearn for a secure life, which led to Natalie’s five-year plan: complete her law degree, marry the perfect man, become a partner at Montgomery, Haynes, and Preston, and produce one child. Getting arrested wasn’t in Natalie’s plan. Needing a public defender wasn’t in her plan. Falling for Grady Hunter, her public defender, definitely wasn’t in her plan. Can Grady convince Natalie there is more to life than her five-year plan? Is Ellie the only one who sees a future for Natalie and Grady?
A Match Made in Freedom — Stephanie Gould loves life on Martha’s Vineyard . . . until she runs into her former business partner and her ex-fiancé, who just returned from their honeymoon. Surprised by the heartache she thought was gone, Stephanie heads to the Berkshires to visit family and friends. Within minutes of arriving in Stockbridge, Stephanie meets Captain Henry Lewis. Little does Stephanie know, her grandmother has already met Henry and Ellie has a plan. Stephanie has no interest in dating, Henry included. If only Henry didn’t turn up everywhere Stephanie goes. When he walks up beside her at the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stephanie can’t deny her attraction, but she’ll do her best to fight it.