Excerpt: Mister Match

MisterMatch-Web“I take it your ex-girlfriend was the type of woman who was always on a diet,” Lisa said. “Let me guess. You’d bring her chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day, and she wouldn’t eat any because she was watching her weight.”

Adam blinked. “Ex-wife, actually. We were married, for a few years. And…then we weren’t anymore. And how did you know that, about the strawberries?”

Lisa smiled. “It’s pretty common. It’s hard not to get sucked into that way of thinking. Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at the cover of any women’s magazine. Every single headline is about losing weight, eating less, subsisting on air and water and loving it, blah, blah, blah. It’s ridiculous.”

“So you don’t buy into that kind of thing?”

She considered before answering. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t wish I were a little less, shall we say, curvy. And I won’t pretend I don’t have moments when I wish I had a lot more self-control around dark chocolate. But life’s too short. And I like food too much.” She grinned. “Especially when someone else is picking up the tab for an incredible spread of exotic deliciousness.”

“Cheers to that,” Adam said, grinning at her as he poured the last of the sake into their cups and raised his aloft.

Their eyes met, and Lisa felt something shift inside her—some little click, like something she hadn’t even realized had been out of alignment snapping into place. She felt a pleasurable little bump of awareness, an instantaneous epiphany of some kind—Oh

And just as quickly, the moment was broken. Adam glanced away, over her shoulder, and suddenly that distant, distracted look was on his face again.

Lisa set her chopsticks down. “You’re going to have to tell me what you’re looking at. That’s the third time you’ve stared past my right ear. And whatever you’re seeing, you don’t look very happy about it.”

Adam focused on her again. “I’m sorry. I should have—well. I don’t know, I’m not used to this situation. I mean, on a date. I don’t date. Last time I went out with a woman, there were definitely not any cameras around—”

“Cameras?” Lisa twisted around in her chair, trying to see whatever he was talking about.

And then she saw them. How had she missed them before? They hovered just outside the restaurant’s wide front window that looked out onto Congress Avenue. There were three of them. No, four—four people out on the sidewalk, under the restaurant’s awning, holding up cameras, their large, black, bulbous lenses pointed into the restaurant’s interior.

Lisa frowned. “What are they doing?”

“Smile, don’t frown,” Adam said, quickly. Lisa glanced at him and saw he’d plastered a false-looking grin to his face.

Was that why he’d been so cheery this whole time? And here she’d been thinking he was smiling because he enjoyed her company. Disappointment settled in the pit of her stomach.

“If you frown,” Adam said, “they’ll sell that shot to the tabloids, with some ridiculous headline about a fight or a breakup or a trip to rehab.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

He heaved a sigh. “Welcome to my world, Lisa. Those are paparazzi photographers. They’re shooting photographs of me…and because you’re with me, they’re shooting you, too.” He shook his head. “Yet another reason I haven’t been on a date in longer than I can remember,” he muttered. “I’m sorry. I never wanted to expose you to this. I don’t know why I thought we could—” He broke off and shook his head again.

Lisa was too mystified to answer. She’d mostly been kidding when she’d called him a celebrity. But apparently the man was the real deal, with paparazzi after him and everything.

“I guess we should go,” Adam was saying. She managed to tear her gaze away from the photographers long enough to see him hand a credit card to the waiter.

“Feel free to use our back exit,” the waiter was saying in a low, confidential voice. “It opens onto the alley.”

Lisa blinked. Had she somehow slipped into an alternate dimension? They’d just eaten more than she made in two hours in sushi, and now Adam was calmly discussing back-alley exits with the waiter, as if they were characters in an action film. This whole scene was unreal.

“I appreciate that,” Adam said, with a wry smile. “Unfortunately, trying to duck out never seems to work out for me. Those guys are like sharks with GPS built right into their brains. Soon as they spot us heading toward the back, they’ll just run around to meet us.”

The waiter made a sympathetic noise and moved away to process Adam’s credit card.

“What should we do?” Lisa asked. She was completely out of her depth. She’d never been in a situation remotely like this before.

“I think the damage is already done, as far as photos go,” Adam said slowly. He accepted the credit card slip from the waiter and paused long enough to sign. “Those guys have been out there since we got here. They must have followed us from the hotel. But maybe we can still take some kind of control of the situation.”

Lisa sat up straighter. “What do you mean?”

He looked at her assessingly. There was warmth in his eyes, and humor, and a sly little spark of mischief. Suddenly, Lisa felt certain he hadn’t been acting, this whole time—that his smiles had been genuine, and just for her.

She felt the oddest sense of trust in this man. She didn’t know him at all, and she knew better than to trust a man as good-looking as he was. And yet, there it was: She simply felt it, a sense of calm certainty that he was one of the good ones. That he had her best interests at heart. That he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her, or take advantage of her.

“You go first,” she said, pushing back her chair to stand. “I’ll follow your lead.”

Adam looked relieved, and delighted. He held out a hand and helped her to her feet, and then placed a palm at the small of her back.

“Ready to smile for the cameras?” he asked. There was laughter in his eyes, and Lisa found herself grinning up at him.

“Ready whenever you are.”

He took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, and then, together, they walked toward the front of the restaurant.

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