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For Love & Cookies
Matchmakers' Book Club - Book 3



 

Carly

I’m late. As the president, if you will, late isn’t a good look. Not my fault, though. There was a huge multi-vehicle, multiple-casualty incident on the highway late this afternoon. Large snowfall totals aren’t frequent in Southern Maine, nor this close to the first day of spring. However, this storm dropped more than the normal on our area, and some drivers weren’t prepared.

I park in front of Scarlett’s gorgeous waterfront home and hustle inside. The open concept living room has a wall of windows to showcase the ocean view. I shrug off my coat and greet the members. “Good evening, ladies. I apologize for my tardiness. Let’s get started.”

The front door whooshes open behind me. Maggie Washington and Lina Gugliotti step inside.

As they hang their coats, I call the meeting of the Matchmakers’ Book Club to order. “Hello, ladies. We’re glad you could make it on this snowy evening. I was expecting a small group, but eight is perfect. First, I would like to welcome our newest member, Alannah. She captured the heart of Callan Craven with a little nudge from her son, Caden, and members of our group. However, the initial helper is not here but deserves recognition. Kelsey, please thank your husband, Captain Ramirez, for the assist in assigning Craven to the boys’ basketball games instead of the girls.”

Kelsey replies, “I will.”

Alannah smiles and says, “Thank you. I’m excited to be here.” Alannah and Callan married a few weeks ago at Clay Hill Farm. A few of the other members who know Alannah welcome her.

I continue, “For those of you who are new to our group, allow me to share our purpose. Initially, we started as a gaggle of nurses and EMTs to de-stress from the rigors of our profession with book club and girls’ night in. At the onset, there were four women. Now, we have a membership of more than twice that many. Over the years, it evolved into a girl gang of epic proportions. Not only do we host events for the local children’s charities, but we keep tabs on the most eligible singles in our community. Our matchmaking book club was created in good fun, and the tradition has continued for the last six years. Along with the purpose of our group, the rules for inclusion on the list have evolved. Inclusion consists of a few factors balanced against one another. First, an attractive package is a must. Also, candidates and admitted bachelors or bachelorettes must be a member of our first responder community, including police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. Most importantly, we attempt to keep the list secret until after he or she has been legally wed. Now I open the floor to all members to raise a motion or suggest additions to the list.”

Willa Cappelli speaks up first. “I move to suggest two changes. First, the criteria should be expanded to include nurses and doctors. Second, I recommend changing the requirement from legally wed to engaged to allow participation in meetings. It would decrease the chance of our group being outed inadvertently. However, the honoree shouldn’t be removed until he or she is legally wed.”

“Interesting amendments. Let’s start with expanding eligibility to nurses and doctors. All those in favor?” I ask the group. As long as these ladies don’t set their sights on me, I’m fine with doctors and nurses being eligible.

Six hands rise.

“Motion carried. Regarding changing the invitation to join the group prior to marriage but not removing the honoree’s name. All those in favor, please raise your hand.”

Only one member fails to vote for this motion.

“The second motion is carried,” I state. Rumblings of chatter start among the group.

Then Lina asks, “We need two honorees from YPD, correct?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“Do they have to be men?” Kelsey wonders aloud.

I consider my answer based on the rules and state, “No. The rules indicate there must be at least one woman on each list. No reason we can’t have a second.”

“Perfect. I recommend Esmeralda Garcia. She joined the department in the last few months. Not only is she gorgeous but funny and new to the area. Esme, which she chooses to be called, moved here from Florida,” Kelsey offers.

“She can be an option. Any other suggestions?” I ask the group.

I get no responses as far as adding to the list. “If there are no other recommendations, I move to add Officer Garcia to the YPD list and leave the second spot open.”

“I second,” Gladys states. She’s one of the founding members and formerly worked as a caregiver for the Smithsons and assisted in matching Zack and Scarlett.

“Motion carried. Now, let’s move on to our next couple. Talk among yourselves, and we’ll vote on the way out. After I tally the votes, I’ll reach out to the members best suited to foster our honoree.” Normally, I don’t participate in choosing our next honoree.

“What about Penn?” Alannah suggests after reading the list of names. If I recall correctly, Alannah and Penn are locals. Perhaps she knows more about him personally than the others in the room.

“We haven’t matched an EMT or a YFD honoree yet,” Willa adds to the conversation.

“True,” Maggie admits. “What about Hagen? He may be a tough one to match, though. His sole focus is Lilah.”

“We can handle tough. I mean, you matched my husband and me,” Kelsey states with a smile.

The ladies laugh and agree.

I wrap up our meeting. “Okay. I’ll set the nominees out near the door, and you can vote on your way out. We have two choices: Séamus Penn and Lachlan Hagen. Don’t forget to sign up for the 5K and charity toy drive for the children’s floor at York Memorial. If you have any questions about the 5K, see Maggie. For the toy drive portion, see Scarlett. The run will take place this summer. Please vote as you leave.”

The group moves into our discussion of this month’s book selection. We changed it up a bit and chose a book used as an outline for the Bridgerton series on Netflix.

Willa speaks first. “To be honest, I liked the show better. Historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre.”

A few of the other ladies nod in agreement.

“I was more a fan of the Duke of Hastings. Regé-Jean Page is a sight to behold,” I admit.

“Yes! That man is perfection.” Lina fans her face.

“His accent makes me swoon,” Alannah adds.

The ladies continue chatting about this month’s selection. Mostly, they focus on the show. About an hour later, they shift gears to choose the book for next month.

With the next book selected, the ladies say goodbye. It’s laughable considering these women see one another frequently between meetings. Some of them are family. As the crowd dwindles, Maggie approaches me.

“Hey, Carly. I wanted to check in about the advertising budget for the 5K.”

“With the storm, I left those forms at home. I’ll email you.”

“Great, thanks. See you next month.” Maggie slips out the front door.

After thanking Scarlett for the use of her home, I leave as well.

Chapter One

Eva

Relocating will be good for me, professionally and, more importantly, personally. A year ago, I was engaged to be married. Now, not so much. I push away those thoughts and focus on the positive. My promotion is significant, and the move brings me closer to my brother and his family.

Grant chose Maine to pursue his passion as a police officer. A few years later, he met Maggie at a traffic stop when she visited her sister for the holidays. Now they have two precocious kids. One is named after our late brother, Caleb, and the other after her late grandmother, Corrinne. Our parents, Greg and Regina, downsized soon thereafter. They sold the family home and purchased a small condo, which allows them to spend time in New York as well as Maine.

I’ve been in York Beach about a week. It’s a quaint seaside town with beaches, a small village, and even an amusement park. I took time to pack up and relax before starting my new position. Currently, I’m staying at Gen’s cottage. She inherited it from her grandmother, who passed away about five years ago, and modernized the floorplan. How do I know Gen? She’s my brother’s sister-in-law.

I pad to the gorgeous kitchen. The cabinetry is white with matching granite with lines of black, gray, and silver for the countertops and island. With a freshly brewed cup of coffee, I step onto the lower-level deck and inhale the ocean breeze. One deep breath and I return inside. While I love the beach, it’s chilly, and the sand is covered with a layer of snow from a late-season storm.

I dress comfortably in leggings and a fluffy sweater and log into my office computer since I don’t have a video conference call today. My new position is based in Boston, but it’s a hybrid.

Near lunch, the doorbell rings. I wrinkle my nose. Only a few people know I’m here, literally a few. Checking the peephole, I see an older gentleman on the front porch with a large bag in his hand.

I open the door. “Hello, can I help you?”

“I have a delivery for Eva Washington,” he replies. He’s sweet with a plaid ivy cap, which coordinates with his jacket.

“Thank you.” I accept the bag and pull money from my wallet. “Have a nice day.”

He tips his hat and replies, “You as well.”

He’s so cute! I set the bag on the island and dig into it. The card indicates it’s from Maggie.

Me: Thank you. It smells amazing!

Maggie: You’re welcome.

Me: Where is it from?

Maggie: My restaurant. Not mine, lol. Morgan’s.

Me: Sweet. Thanks.

Maggie: See you on Friday.

Me: Looking forward to meeting some of your friends.

Spreading out my lunch in front of the gorgeous French doors, I savor the artisan sandwich and fries. Each bite melts in my mouth. Chef has some serious skills. I make a mental note to check out Morgan’s soon. An image of a gorgeous man flashes through my mind. It would be a perfect first date spot. Lachlan is tall with sandy blond hair and piercing eyes as blue as the tranquil waters of Antigua. He took my breath away. We met at the YPD holiday event a little over a month ago. I drove up for a visit after my interview in Boston, and it happened to be on the same day. My brother insisted I join him at the party. To be fair, I met Lachlan’s sweet daughter first. Lilah, who possesses a mass of golden ringlets atop her head, spilled her plate of decorated cookies at my feet. Instantly, tears burst from her eyes.

The problem is… I’m not interested in anything long term right now. Cody, my ex-fiancé, did a number on me. We dated for three years before he proposed. Our engagement was going well until his behavior became suspect. Instead of coming straight home after the gym at the end of the day, he shifted his schedule. He started working out in the morning, then hitting the bar with his coworkers. Coworkers—plural—wasn’t exactly true. He was wining and dining one coworker, Chelsea. She was my polar opposite in every way—brunette, voluptuous, and fiery. I’m not angry with her at all. Cody failed to mention his ring was perched on my finger while dating another woman.

I should’ve seen the signs when he asked for my hand in marriage. He made a public show of it at a trendy bistro downtown with a photographer on hand to capture the entire thing. I’m fine with the photos, but all those strangers, no thanks. The ring was a gaudy, five-carat, pear-shaped canary diamond. It isn’t me at all. I’m more of a traditional girl, and my ex didn’t bother to consider me. He chose the ring to appease his mother, which is another long, tedious story. Why did he propose instead of breaking up with me? No idea.

Pulling myself out of my useless memory spiral, I return to the office and continue my workday. To push away the sour taste the memories of Cody put in my mouth, I allow myself one more moment with Lachlan in the front of my mind. My smile renewed, I make progress on my project for the soccer team and then call it a day a few hours later.

After eating and cleaning the kitchen, I lock the doors and curl up on the master balcony in front of the cozy firepit with my book.

I wake early the next morning and decide to check out the local coffee shop. It’s a short walk, and it’s considerably warmer than yesterday. I meander down the street and around a curve. The stretch of beach along the back of Gen’s house is on my left and the Perk on my right a few blocks ahead.

The shop is cute and has a Friends vibe. I peruse the extensive menu before stepping up to the counter.

“Welcome to the Perk. What can I get started for you?” a young woman with gorgeous raven hair greets me. Her name tag says “Macie.”

“Morning. Can I have a vanilla chai latte and strawberry cheddar scone?”

“Of course.”

I pay and wait for my order. Savoring the first glorious sip of the latte, I step outside and cross the street. I decide to stroll along the beach back to the cottage instead of the sidewalk. I’ll dodge the patches of remaining snow along the way.

The next few days I’m buried in campaign themes and draft ad images and have no time to explore the area more. Aside from a second trip for pastries, I haven’t left the cottage. I don’t need to, but tonight I’m meeting Maggie and a few others for dinner and drinks. I can’t wait.

My sister-in-law indicated the dress code was casual but not loungewear casual. I opt for jeans with a V-neck royal blue sweater and booties. After locking up, I walk down the street past the Perk and search for Inn on the Blues, where I’m meeting Maggie. She assured me it was close to the cottage. I decided to take her suggestion and enjoy the balmy weather this evening.

The atmosphere here is much different than in New York City. It’s laid-back and peaceful. My affinity for the ocean is soothed with each morning coffee on the deck. I didn’t realize how much I missed the shore surrounded by concrete and traffic noise until moving here.

The hostess greets me as I approach, but Maggie waves me over to her table. “Thank you, but I see my party over there.”

The hostess nods, and I weave my way over to my sister-in-law.

“Hey, Eva!” She stands and hugs me.

I put Maggie on the spot when we first met. I mean, my brother brought her to the hospital when our mother had a stroke. Maggie stood up for herself and Grant that day. She told me flat out that his job was a calling, and she would support him. Since then, we’ve grown close. “This place is amazing!”

“The food is delicious too. Not as good as Morgan’s,” she adds, lowering her voice, “but still worth it.”

“Maggie, aren’t you forgetting to introduce the rest of us?” a stunning, curvy brunette asks.

“Sorry, Caroline.” She looks at me and asks, “Ready?”

“Yes.”

Maggie goes around the table introducing everyone. “Caroline, Noelle, Carly, and Poppy. Caroline and Noelle are married to Auggie and Cash Morgan, respectively, and own a childcare facility. Carly is the head nurse in the emergency department at York Memorial Hospital. Poppy works for Kelly Barnett at So Elegant.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Eva.” I wave and take a seat beside Maggie. It’s good to put faces to the names of her friends. Four people at once isn’t too bad.

They each greet me, and then we order drinks and appetizers.

“What brings you to York Beach, Eva?” Caroline asks.

“A few reasons, but mainly, my promotion transferred me from New York to Boston. Living near Grant and Maggie made sense.”

“What do you do?” Carly asks. She’s girl-next-door pretty, blonde, and bubbly. Interesting considering she controls an emergency room. You would think her job would increase the likelihood of sadness. There are only a few instances where a hospital visit yields a happy ending.

“I’m a graphic designer and marketing analyst.”

“Sweet. We could use your assistance. Can you freelance?” Noelle asks.

A smile curls up on my face. “Yes, I can take on my own clients.” I reach into my purse and hand her my card. “We should set up a meeting to talk about it.”

Noelle takes the card. “Sounds perfect! I’ll call you on Monday to schedule something.”

“Great.”

Our server delivers our appetizers and takes our dinner order. According to Maggie—while second to Morgan’s—each entrée is delicious. She recommended macaroni and cheese topped with lobster.

“Speaking of advertising, I have a freelance opportunity for you. Pro bono too.” Maggie turns in my direction.

I laugh. At least she’s honest about using my skills for free. “Is this the same one Grant mentioned in passing hoping to lure me in?”

Maggie drops her head. “The toy drive and 5K? Yup, that’s the one.”

“Let me know when the next meeting is and I’ll be there,” I answer.

“You’re the best sister-in-law ever!”

I lift my shoulder and smile. “Yes, I am.”

The table laughs, and we chat until our meal arrives.  

Over dinner, the ladies suggest places to visit, like the Nubble Lighthouse or Dunne’s Ice Cream Shoppe. Noelle and Caroline offer recommendations for a spa and nail salon.

Carly is the one who goes there. “No man in New York, Eva?”

Maggie attempts to stop the conversation. “Nope, no guy talk.”

I wave her off. “It’s okay, Maggie. About a year ago, I was engaged. Soon after he proposed, his behavior started to change. Cody was cheating on me. I dumped him and his gaudy ring.”

“A new job and a fresh start in the man department. Sounds wonderful,” Carly offers.

Perhaps there’s a story there. She sounds like she may have been burned in the past as well.

“Not interested in finding a man right now. Cody made me wonder if what I want is out there.”

“What are you looking for?” Carly inquires.

“I want a marriage like my parents. Cliché, I know. They have been through it all, from health issues, wealth highs and lows, and losing my brother. They still have date nights and dance in the kitchen after thirty-eight years.”

“It isn’t a secret to you or these ladies, but I was where you are before I met your brother. There are good men out there. Finding them is the trick,” Maggie offers.

Noelle adds, “She’s right. I stumbled upon Cash when my flight to my brother’s wedding was delayed.”

“I met Auggie at boarding school when we were kids,” Caroline shares.

“We could give you plenty of examples in our social circle,” Maggie adds.

“I appreciate that. For right now, it’s no-strings-attached for me.”

The ladies raise their glasses and toast my new job and future girls-only dinners. We chat a bit longer, and then the ladies start to leave.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Eva,” Noelle states. She’s not only whip-smart, but her mane of red hair and striking green eyes make her stand out more.

I wave to her and Caroline. “You as well. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

“You will,” Caroline replies.

Poppy and Carly leave right after them.

“Your friends are nice, Maggie.”

“This is only a small portion of the amazing ladies in this town.”

“Sweet.”

“The meeting for the committee is Wednesday night at six,” Maggie shares.

“Where?”

“Our house.”

“I’ll be there. Thank you for inviting me to join you tonight.”

Maggie smiles and hugs me. “You’re welcome. Do you want a ride to the cottage?”

“No, thanks. I’m going to use the restroom and walk along the shore."

“Okay. See you soon.”

Maggie leaves, and I weave through the tables toward the restroom. On my way out, I note the path through the bar is less crowded. When I turn the corner, I see hot, single dad Lachlan wallowing over a beer in a rear booth… alone.

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