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For Love & Photos
Matchmakers' Book Club - Book 4


 

Prologue

Maggie

“Let’s get started. Thank you for joining me early. It would be impossible to fix Carly up if she’s running the meeting.” I begin our get-together. We’re gathered at the Smithson home this month. Our plan is to set up Carly and one of the eligible honorees. It won’t be easy.

 

The ladies of the Matchmakers’ Book Club laugh. The group came together about seven years ago to de-stress from the rigors of being first responders or married to a first responders.

 

“So true!” Lina Gugliotti offers. “She’s going to be tough to match either way.”

 

“Agreed,” Scarlett chimes in. “Carly knows everyone.”

Carly Reed is our fearless leader and runs the emergency department at York Memorial like a Navy captain. Her bubbly personality seems incongruent with her profession, but she remains cheerful and pleasant despite her high-stress job.

 

I acknowledge their statement. “Yes, which is why my plan will work. A friend of mine and former vendor from my Boston days is looking to potentially relocate to this area. She’s an event photographer but also specializes in stranger photo shoots.”

 

“Oooh! Please explain more. This sounds intriguing,” Eva, my sister-in-law and newest club member, says. She was successfully matched with Lachlan Hagen and his precocious daughter, Lilah. They recently held a small wedding ceremony in their backyard.

 

The front door whooshes open, and Carly arrives.

 

“Am I late?” she asks. Concern mars her porcelain skin as evidenced by her reddening cheeks.

 

“Not at all,” Scarlett replies immediately, which may tip Carly off that something is amiss. “Some of the ladies were early, and I was chatting with Lina about the softball game from last weekend. The police officers are elated to house the ‘First In’ trophy at the precinct for the next year.”

 

Buy it, Carly!

 

Carly audibly exhales. “Of course. I hate when people are waiting for me.”

 

I wave her off. “You’re right on time.” Although I failed to finish explaining my plans for her and a candidate on the list, it seems she’s none the wiser. At least I hope so.

Carly sets down her tote and opens the meeting. “We have no new members this evening. Are there any motions to be heard?”

 

Scarlett raises her hand. “I move not to select a new eligible candidate as well as to remove Lexington Soren.”

 

Carly raises an eyebrow. “Interesting. Why?”

 

“With the list as it currently stands, we have fifteen potential candidates to focus on. It seems when we add a new one, he or she is matched first. Lexington has recently relocated to Connecticut near his family.”

 

Scarlett’s answer is correct. The potential honorees include from the York Police Department: Donovan Davis, Piper Montgomery, Xander Greyson, and Esmeralda Garcia. York Fire Department includes Bradford Collings, Alden Rhodes, Aidan Madden, Landry Reed, Callum Foster, Kellen McCormick, and Mia Arden. Lastly, the EMTs in York County include Séamus Penn, Jude Pascal, Hollis Booker, Marcello Auberon, Tobin Vaughn, and Lacey Ransom.

 

Carly tilts her head as if considering the motion more. “All in favor?”

 

Five of the six members present vote in favor of waiting to add more honorees.

 

“The motion is carried. Are there any other motions to consider?”

 

I glance around the room. No one poses anything new.

 

“Great. Please discuss amongst yourselves. We need at least two potential candidates. I’ll canvass the room for honorees and then we can move onto our book discussion, which is honestly why we’re here, right?” Carly states.

 

The group of women laugh heartily before Eva adds, “I’m thinking it’s more the matchmaking. As someone who recently was a target, if you will, I’m excited to guide someone else to happiness.”

 

“You and Lachlan didn’t really need help. Only a nudge.” I lean into my new sister.

 

Eva smiles and agrees. “I’m willing to assist, but I don’t know many of these men and women so….”

 

“Don’t worry. You’ll be a pro in no time,” Alannah Craven offers. “I suggest Penn. He’s a bit older than the rest of the candidates. Séamus is a great guy but hasn’t been lucky in love.”

 

“He’s a good option. I would recommend Landry,” Carly suggests. “He needs a strong shove toward an adult relationship. If he brings one more flavor of the month to a family barbecue or get-together, I’ll scream.” Landry is her older brother and a member of the YFD. 

 

With slack jaws, we turn toward her. Speechless.

 

“What?” she asks.

 

Lina replies, “We’ve never heard you so adamant about anything before.”

 

Carly shrugs. “I want him to be happy. Are we comfortable with those two? Séamus Penn and Landry Reed.”

 

A chorus of yeses echoes around the room.

 

“Perfect. I’ll leave their names near the door for you to vote on your way out. We can move onto our book discussion. Thankfully, this time there isn’t a movie adaptation.”

 

“Talking about the cast of Bridgerton was entertaining.” Lina fans herself.

 

We discontinue ribbing Carly, and the group moves on to chatting about the book. Generally, we opt for a new release but this month we chose A Time Traveller’s Wife. I excuse myself and talk with her near the massive French doors. Scarlett and Zack live along the beach and have an exceptional view.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Hmm. Yeah. I’m fine. Just tired. The emergency department has been off the wall lately especially with the staffing shortage.”

 

“Why don’t you head out? I can finish this meeting,” I suggest.

 

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Her voice is hopeful even if the gesture buys her less than an hour.

 

“Not at all,” I answer.

 

Carly slips out. Then I share more details about the photo shoot. Delineating the pros and cons pulls other members onboard to match Carly. I hang out until the ladies finish talking about the book and close the meeting. Now more than ever, I want to fix up Carly. Ideally, the group will vote for Penn. If they don’t, I will have to get creative in finding a match for her. Like Scarlett mentioned earlier, “she knows everyone.” I’m also confident she thinks being the moderator of this group exempts her from our endeavors.

 

She’s wrong.

Chapter One

Séamus

 

My last five hours of the week. Earlier in my career, I had two paramedic jobs. It was exhausting. As my side hustle in screen printing and graphic design took off, I decreased to one position with a forty-eight/ninety-six shift rotation. I’m on shift for two days straight and then have four days off. There are times when the work hours are calm and others where they are chaotic like this one has been. So far, I’ve handled four straight calls requiring trips to the emergency department.

 

“Back to headquarters, Penn?” My partner Lacey asks after we reload the gurney. She’s petite and girl-next-door pretty. I’m fairly certain her overprotective mastiff Barkley is almost as tall as she is. She’s been my partner for the last three years.

 

“Yup. You?”

 

“I need some food. Mind joining me?”

 

“I’ll ride along but takeout, please? I need some sleep before my date tonight.”

 

“You have a date?” Surprise is evident in her voice. Lacey is aware of my dislike for the process of dating.

 

“A blind date in fact.”

 

“Who set you up this time?”

 

“Mrs. Swanson,” I share.

 

“Cool. At least the matchmakers haven’t set you in their sights yet.”

 

“Ha. Unlikely. Alannah will protect me.”

 

Lacey laughs heartily and pulls away from the curb. “Your lifelong friend would find you a partner in a

heartbeat, and you know it.”

 

I scowl, knowing she’s right. Alannah has been on me since she met her husband. “You need to find a good woman, Séamus.” My friend’s voice echoes in my mind. She’s probably right, but my history makes me overly cautious.

 

She parks outside a sandwich shop and hops out. “Sure you don’t want anything?”

 

“No, I’ll eat on my date. At least I’ll get a decent meal out of it.”

 

Shaking her head, Lacey opens the door and stands in line. Lucky for her, dispatch sends us to a motor vehicle accident when she turns to exit the store. I accept the call, hop into the driver’s seat, and take off to the scene.

 

We arrive at nearly the same time as the police. Davis and Montgomery assess the scene while we wait nearby. This collision was three cars. It appears to be a chain reaction where the last car didn’t slow down and slammed into a sedan in line at the traffic light. Then the sedan was pushed into the first car ahead of it as the damage to the rear of the small SUV appears minimal. Given the proximity to the end of my workweek, I’m grateful for limited damage.

 

Once Davis and Montgomery set up a perimeter and secure the area, we approach the vehicles. Overall, the injuries are minor, and everyone, wrongfully in my opinion, refuses a ride to the hospital. Lacey and I return to headquarters and wait for our shift to end.

 

“Good luck, Penn,” she offers on her way out the door.

 

I wave, reply, “Thanks,” then walk to my car. I accepted this date and I will go. I’m not holding out hope though. Hustling home, I shower, change, and make it to the restaurant with ten minutes to spare.

 

“Good evening, sir. How can I help you?” the perfectly neat host inquires.

 

“I have a reservation under Penn.”

 

He glances at the screen to his left. “The rest of your party hasn’t arrived yet. Follow me.”

 

Mrs. Swanson, my mother’s best friend, set up this blind date. She assured me it would be someone I don’t know and might like. At this point, my only parameter is a nonlocal. I have dated locals long term before, and it didn’t end well either time.

 

Unfortunately, she failed. Right on time, the host escorts Esme to my table. I stand when the host pulls out her chair.

 

Esme thanks him and he walks away. Objectively, she’s gorgeous, but we’re acquaintances, and she isn’t my type. Who in their right mind would turn down a gorgeous curvy Latina? I hear you. Esmeralda Garcia is a K-9 Officer with the York Beach Police department. She’s over ten years younger than me and not my type at all. I have been burned by a woman in uniform, and it’s never happening again. Besides, Esme is an acquaintance, and I refuse to mix work and pleasure.

 

“Hi, Penn.”

 

“Esme. You look lovely.”

 

She smiles and thanks me. “How do you know Mrs. Swanson?”

 

I tilt my head and reply, “She’s friends with my mother. You?”

 

“Huh. She lives across the street from me. Always watching when I stay in on my off weekends.”

 

Our server stands near the edge of our table and waits for us to acknowledge him. “Welcome. Would you like to hear the specials?”

 

“If it’s—”

 

“Penn—”

 

We both speak at once.

 

“Go ahead,” I urge her.

 

“Penn, why don’t we skip the dinner, get our stories straight, and head home for the night,” Esme suggests.

 

With morbid curiosity, our server awaits my reply.

 

“Fine with me.” I shift my gaze to our server. “We’ll be leaving, so you can turn this table. Thank you.” I rise, round the table, pull out her chair, and we walk toward the front door. On the sidewalk outside, we pause. The mere fact Esme was my date doesn’t really bother me. It’s why I avoid dating in general. Plus, a woman in uniform is a no-go for me.

 

“First, please know this isn’t personal. I don’t date people I work with,” she hurriedly states.

 

I raise my hand. “No reason is necessary. Besides, I agree with you. As far as our matchmaker, we had dinner, but it turned out more friendly than romantic. Sound good to you?”

 

“Perfect,” she replies. A slight lilt of relief in her voice.

 

“Where did you park?” I ask.

 

Esme points to the lot alongside the building, and I escort her to her car. “I’ll see you around, Penn.”

 

“Good night, Esme.” Once she pulls away, I take a seat in my car, which is a few spaces over, and ponder what to do with the rest of my evening. I decide to drown my date flop with a beer.

 

 Normally, sidling up to this bar with Jimmy behind it is more fun. Barley and Hops is a brewery and small bites place in the center of York Beach.

 

“Another flop?” Jimmy sets a fresh beer in front of me. Jimmy opened Barley & Hops about five years ago.

Over the last few years, my friends have paired off into committed or wedded bliss. On the other hand, I have been supremely unlucky. Dating apps are terrible. Blind dates are a close second. I had two relationships that made me skittish.

 

“Yup. I’m at the point of giving up. Perhaps I’m not meant to have a wife and family.”

 

“Ha! Another blind date?”

 

“Yeah, except I knew her, and we’re friends and coworkers, sort of.”

 

“Who?” Jimmy asks in true bartender fashion with his arm bent on the oaken bar top.

 

“Esme.”

 

“Isn’t she too young for you?” Jimmy asks.

 

“Definitely. I’m done dating.”

 

“Says every man right before he meets the woman of his dreams.”

 

“Are you losing your mind?”

 

“You’re a catch, Penn. You will find her.”

 

I laugh, shake my head, and take a long drag of my pilsner. As I set it down, Alannah strides into the bar. She’s statuesque with fiery red hair and is my oldest friend. We went to middle and high school together. She and my best friend Daniel had a son before….

 

Alannah approaches and hugs me. “I thought you had a date.”

 

I tilt my head.

 

She frowns “Another one?”

 

Jimmy interjects. “Let the man wallow for a little bit. Then fix him up yourself.”

 

“No.” I state with stern emphasis. “I don’t want her and her group of matchmaking friends meddling in my personal life.”

 

“What are you talking about, Séamus?” Alannah asks.

 

I drop my head and respond, “Everyone knows about your gaggle of love doctors. However, no one will expose you. They will hesitate when they’re suspicious though. I want no part. Besides, Maggie already set me up for some stranger photography session. Then I’m done.”

 

“Okay. When?” Alannah smiles.

 

I would have to be a blind idiot to miss the twinkle in her eye. Damn! “Next weekend, I think.”

 

“Promise me this, if it doesn’t work out, you’ll give me one more chance to set you up. You deserve to be happy.”

 

“Maybe.” I stress every syllable. “Thanks, Lan.”

 

Jimmy carries her dinner to the counter and rings her out. “Have a good night.”

 

“Thanks. You too.” Alannah and her fiery red hair hustle out the door. Presumably home to her husband and daughter. She has a son, Caden, in college and a toddler named Nyla. Caden may not be my nephew by blood, but his father Daniel was my best friend, and I acted as his father figure until Alannah met Callan. It won’t change now. In fact, I’m looking forward to attending his preseason opener next month. Like his mother, Caden chased his dream of playing college basketball. I attend every game I can.

 

“You know she’s right,” Jimmy states.

 

“Do I?”

 

“Despite the slightly mischievous nature of their group, their success rate is impeccable. In fact, I don’t believe they’ve failed.” He isn’t wrong. The list of pairings goes back quite a few years.

 

“Meaning?”

 

“I may not have been in business yet, but I’m a local just like you. It’s one of the reasons you commiserate here. We have a shared bond. Anyway, the rumors about their group have been swirling since Captain Ramirez met his sexy wife, Kelsey.”

 

“Willa and Luca too,” I add. Luca is a local who was with the York Police Department and moved on to the State Police. Willa is an administrator at York Memorial, and they are set to have twin daughters soon upping their total kids to three. “I see your point, but for tonight, I’m going to continue my pity party.”

 

“Fair enough.” I leave the bar less than thirty minutes later and fall into my bed as soon as I get home. Sleep is elusive. Maybe Jimmy is right. The ladies excel at selecting their candidates and their matches.

Perhaps I should allow Alannah to fix me up.


 

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