“Good morning, Jessie,” Evelyn said grimly. “I suppose you can guess why I’m calling.”
I dug my fingernails into my palms, glad the picto-phone app wasn’t on so the Intergalactic Dating Agency director wouldn’t see me cry. The only scenario more humiliating than being fired would be to break down while it happened. “Caid.” There was no point pretending.
“Yes, Client DK0009.”
I’d never met my boss—I’d been hired via online interview—but she kept tabs on everyone who worked under her. She had a reputation for conducting incognito surprise visits to check on her subordinates.
Caid of Dakon I knew very well. The attractive Dakonian devil had vexed me to no end. Wouldn’t you know he’d lead to my fall from grace? Until him, I’d had a perfect record.
“He’s been listed as active-unmatched for six months. This is unacceptable. The Intergalactic Dating Agency guarantees its clients an HEA. Every other client, every other Dakonian, has found an acceptable date within the first few weeks. How many dates has DK0009 had?”
“Sixty-two,” I said in a small voice. I’d reviewed his stats this morning. “But he had one last night that looked promising.” They’d all looked promising, but none had panned out.
“And how did that one go?”
“I don’t know yet.” Probably like the rest. “I’ll find out when I meet with him. I’m optimistic about this one,” I fibbed.
“You have two weeks,” Evelyn Fidalgo said. “If you can’t find an acceptable match for DK0009, then, I’m sorry, but you leave me no choice but to terminate your employment.”
“That’s not fair!” I protested. “Caid is only one client. I’ve supervised almost three thousand successful matches. Besides, the IDA computer program pairs couples based on objective personality assessment testing.” If she needed to fire somebody, fire the computer!
“Exactly. Our program turns finding love into a science, but love isn’t always logical, so when science fails, it requires a human touch. As match coordinator, your job is to come up with a solution. A computer can’t think outside the box. You can—or maybe you can’t. Maybe that’s the problem.”
“I’ve reviewed and verified the appropriateness of every single one of Caid’s dates; he’s attended the assimilation class, etiquette lessons, courtship seminars, communication training—”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know.” It wasn’t a total lie. While I could guess at the problem, I couldn’t pinpoint it with 100 percent accuracy. Only 99.9 percent. “Please, give me more time. I’ll try something different.” I had no idea what that would be. I’d done everything.
“Two weeks. Then I’m handing his case to another match coordinator, and your employment with the Intergalactic Dating Agency will be terminated.”
She disconnected, and I sat at my desk, squeezing my fists and fighting tears. Working for the Intergalactic Dating Agency was my dream job. I’d been thrilled when I landed a position five and a half years ago, and when I got promoted to match coordinator three years later, I’d been catapulted to cloud nine.
Or as close to it as I would ever get. My own love life sucked and always had. Shy around the opposite sex, I made a terrible first impression, and the few guys who had taken me out didn’t ask for a second date.
I lived vicariously through IDA clients. Helping them find their Mr. or Ms. Wonderful and live happily ever after reassured me true love did exist, and hopefully, maybe someday, it would find me. Earth men weren’t into committed, monogamous relationships anymore, but extraterrestrials were, and somewhere in the galaxy there had to be a man who would love me. Ironically, a service like the Intergalactic Dating Agency could have been my ticket to an HEA.
Unfortunately, the IDA barred present and former employees from using the service, and fraternization with clients resulted in instant termination. No warning, no probation, no two-week reprieve. No severance. Poof, you’re gone. Security will clean out your desk and forward your stuff.
Despite the strict prohibitions, I’d been tempted to create an account with a fake name and fill out the IDA personality test myself to see if I had a match, except, what if I did? I wouldn’t be able to date the person, and then my alias would remain in the system. Loser001, active-unmatched. A blot against my own matchmaking record. I didn’t need another one.
What was I going to do about Caid? He sat in my waiting room right now. One of my recent “out-of-the box” ideas—i.e. acts of desperation—had been to Monday morning quarterback his dates to figure out what had gone well and what hadn’t, what he’d liked and disliked. The postmortems hadn’t worked, and worse, I had the horrible feeling the sessions had backfired.
Maybe this last date clicked. Ha! What were the odds? Better get this over with. Maybe a brainstorm would come to me, and I’d be able to match Caid and save my big butt.
I pushed away from my desk. Taking a deep breath, I pasted a bright smile on my face and opened the door. “Caid? Sorry for keeping you waiting. You can come in now.”
Sprawled in a chair, the Dakonian flashed a sinful smile. “No problem, beautiful. You’re worth the wait.” He lumbered to his feet and sauntered into my office, ducking to avoid hitting his head.
“What’s that smell?” I sniffed.
“Panther Cologne…the scent that drives women wild. Is it working?” He winked, leaned in close, and whispered, “You dropped something.”
I glanced at the floor, and my hand went to my ear. No, not my earring. “What?”
“A piece of my heart.” Dark-brown eyes fixed on my face, and leathery horns pulsed.
Pickup lines didn’t get any cheesier, and this alien Lothario probably flirted with every woman, but my breathing hitched, and my cheeks heated.
“Sit down, Caid.” I gestured to a chair and shut the door—then opened it to signal he shouldn’t get any ideas. Then I shut it again. I never knew what would come out of his mouth.
“Something wrong with the door?” He folded himself into the too-small guest chair but managed to look perfectly comfortable.
And sexy-as-sin. Forget six-pack abs, Caid had a whole freakin’ case of muscles. Most Dakonians preferred their native attire, buckskins made from kel, an animal on their planet, but, Caid had adopted Earth fashion from the beginning.
Today he wore a black Henley that tautened across his broad, brawny chest and bulging guns. He stretched out his long, powerful legs, and I couldn’t help but notice how his faded blue jeans cupped him in all the places I shouldn’t be checking out.
I tore my gaze away and took cover behind my desk. “So, you had a date last night. With”—I pretended to check my computer—“Loretta.” I already had the deets on the summa cum laude Miss Galaxy winner who’d surrendered her crown to found an organization to end world hunger. I’d handpicked her for him. She was slim, beautiful, accomplished, personable, poised—everything I wasn’t. If reincarnation existed, I hoped I came back as Loretta. “How did it go? Did you like her?”
Muscles flexed as he shrugged his broad shoulders, and my mouth went dry. Every woman’s dream, he was way out of my league. Who was I kidding? I had no league; I couldn’t even attract the bottom feeders.
“She was okay. Just not my type,” he said.
Instead of consternation, I felt wrongfully relieved. I have to get over this stupid infatuation. I had to prepare myself, because, despite his pickiness, the day would come when Caid would meet his “mate” and fall head over heels in love. What would I do then?
Do my job. Just do my job. Provided I still had one to do. I had to make this work!
“Did you give her a chance?” I asked.
I squinted, tilting my chin upward. “Tell me about the date.”
“I met her for dinner at Luigi’s Italian Restaurant. When I arrived, she was sitting at a table by the window. I approached her and told her she wasn’t my mate, and I couldn’t continue with the date.”
“That’s not giving her a chance!” He brought new meaning to the phrase “speed dating.” I massaged my temples. How in the galaxy could I find him a match when he didn’t stick around long enough for attraction to kick in?
He leaned forward. “Did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?”
“When you fell from heaven.” His horns twitched, and his cheeks dimpled with an impish grin. “Because you’re an angel.”
Caid didn’t like me. He only thought he did. I had accidentally been insinuated into the process. Like many players, he desired what he couldn’t have. Even if I could date him—which I couldn’t due to IDA rules—he’d drop me in an instant once I showed an interest.
I’d informed him up front I couldn’t be his mate. After a dozen failed matches, I’d gently suggested he might prefer to opt out of the program, but he’d insisted on continuing.
So, what did he want?
“Do you know what heaven is? What an angel is?” Those weren’t concepts his people were familiar with. Dakonians didn’t have heaven or hell or gods or angels.
They believed in the “Fates,” a supernatural energy guiding people to their lifemates—which hindered my ability to match Caid. Although the computer identified compatible women based on IDA personality assessment testing, Caid seemed to expect the Fates to shout in his ear, “This is the one!” So certain of his belief, he hadn’t given the women a fighting chance.
“Heaven is the sky. An angel is a beautiful being with wings.” He looked at me. “You don’t have wings, but the moment I met you, you made my heart flutter.”
“Where are you getting this stuff?” You expected that kind of a come-on from a bothersome man whose gold chains got lost in a rat’s nest of chest hair displayed under his unbuttoned, shiny polyester shirt—like a century or two ago. Uttered in a Dakonian accent by a seven-foot-tall alien with pulsing horns, and a seductive, yet somehow innocent smile, it sounded…damn him…charming. “Is that how you greet your dates?”
“Just you, boo.” His cheeks dimpled.
What was I going to do with him? In truth, the IDA’s personality assessment and compatibility software beat out old-fashioned dating for finding love matches by ten to one. Clients usually found their Mr. or Ms. Right in the first match. Rarely did it require more than two. Most likely Caid already had met his “Fated” mate, but hadn’t given her the time of day.
Chemistry provided the glue that bonded couples until true love could grow, but even lust required longer than ten seconds to develop.
If he’d hang around long enough to get to know his date, he might realize there was something there. If I could get him to give the women a second chance…
And bingo! An idea came to me.
“We’re going to do something different,” I said. “I’m going to throw a mixer for you.” I’d pull a shortlist of previous matches with the highest compatibility ratings and bring them together in one room. He’d have to spend at least a few minutes with each woman. I would be there to enforce it.
“What’s a mixer?” he asked.
“It’s a small cocktail party, ten to twelve people. You’ll be the guest of honor. I’m going to invite some of the women you’ve already met.” Hopefully, he hadn’t offended them too badly, and I could get them to come. I had to be prepared for some nos. Fortunately, he’d left me with a long list to choose from.
Shaking his head, he opened his mouth. “N—”
“I’ll be there.”
If I had to offer myself as bait, I’d do it. I couldn’t lose my job over this. Attending the mixer would allow me to observe his behavior and nudge him in the right direction.
He believed in the Fates; I believed in the IDA’s assessment.
He smiled. “In that case, sugar, I’ll go.” Ordinary words, but in his husky, suggestive tone, it sounded almost indecent. When this man switched on the charm, he could melt the panties off a nun.
The mixer would do the trick. I could feel it in my bones. Caid would meet his match and fall in love, and I could close out this case and save my job. I only hoped my heart wouldn’t get broken in the process.