THE HEART OF A WINNER
Confined to a wheelchair after a devastating injury, former NFL star Jake Masters has exiled himself behind the imposing gates of his lavish home. But his twin sister, Beth, has no intention of letting him languish there forever. After years of failing one business after another, all bankrolled by Jake’s generosity, she now owns a highly lucrative matchmaking service. And she’s gifting the business to Jake—whether he likes it or not—while she follows her dream of becoming a singer in Nashville. But Jake knows next to nothing about matchmaking, and it’s soon clear that he needs an assistant. Enter Gracie Sweet, whose slender frame belies a take-no-charge toughness that would put any linebacker to shame. Gracie begins by revamping the business and soon she’s overhauling Jake’s entire life. But when their clients become victims of theft, Gracie and Jake must reconcile their very different outlooks if they’re to have any chance of saving the business . . .
Praise for the novels of Fern Michaels
“Michaels knows what readers expect from her and she delivers each and every time.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars, on Perfect Match
“Secrets, revenge and personal redemption . . . A tale of strong emotions and courage.” —Publishers Weekly on No Safe Secret
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
FERN MICHAELS is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood, and Godmothers series, as well as dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over one-hundred ten million copies of her books in print. Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at www.fernmichaels.com.
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
One month later
Gracie Sweet looked around at what she and Beth Masters had called their lair, their working environment. Or the professional, politically correct phrase — their office. It looked like an office, and yet it didn't look like an office at all. Together, she and Beth, along with a young architect, had worked overtime to make the long room that ran the entire length of the house work friendly. Both of them always looked forward to starting work at eight each morning.
One entire wall was a row of French doors that led out onto a tiered deck that was full of pots of flowers and hanging ferns. It also offered a view of the backyard, awash with flowers and healthy shrubs. The opposite wall held an exotic fish tank with one-of-a-kind tropical fish that both of them doted on. They'd named them Larry, Moe, and Curly after the Three Stooges. In truth, they had no idea whether the fish were male or female.
The two end walls were covered with paintings by local artists, and each painting had its own story. In the middle of the room, two long, custom-made desks sat back-to-back so that the two women could converse with each other while they worked. Each desk contained five computers. At the end of each desk were four printers, which had each been replaced three times because of the heavy usage.
Because they both liked music, surround sound had been one of the first things both women had insisted on when they began making the conversion from household living space to work space.
The long, spacious room had two alcoves that allowed for a tiny kitchen with a table, two chairs, a microwave, a toaster oven, and a refrigerator. The opposite alcove was a small lavatory.
Gracie sat down at her workstation and turned on all the computers. She looked around as they booted up. She felt sad, just as sad as she'd been every day since Beth had left a month ago. She dreaded what was to come and didn't know if she could really pull it off or not, but she'd promised Beth she'd do her best. If her best turned out not to be good enough, she would simply fall back and regroup. Beth was just a phone call away.
Gracie reached down into one of the deep drawers and pulled out a bright yellow folder that said Jake Masters on the cover. Beth's dossier on her brother. She'd read it before. In fact, she had pretty much memorized the contents. The pictures of the virile Jake burned into her brain. Before pictures. There were no after pictures, of Jake in his wheelchair. There were even some pictures of Moose Dennison, Jake's old trainer, who was also his mentor, his best friend, and his houseman. Beth had said earlier to make a friend of Moose, and she would be in like Flynn. Whatever the hell that meant.
Gracie smiled when she saw the home page on the computer. Perfect Match. And then a picture of a man's hand clasping a woman's hand. She hit the key that would take her to the in-box to check the overnight mail. As always, there were hundreds of emails that required a response. She'd get to them before bedtime even if it took her till the middle of the night. It was Beth's Rule Number One. All e-mails were answered the day they came in. That alone, Gracie knew, was the main reason Perfect Match was so successful.
Gracie moved then from the e-mails to the satellite offices and checked in one by one. As was her daily custom, she hit New York first since they were in the same time zone, then Chicago, Texas, and lastly, California. She quickly scanned the overnight reports and was satisfied that there were no blips that required her attention.
Gracie bit down on her lower lip and dreaded hitting the key that would take her to the site that Jake Masters was supposed to be working on. No activity. She hadn't expected anything less. Well, today was the day she was going to shake up Mr. Jake Masters's world. If she hadn't been working behind the scenes here at Beth's house and taking care of business unbeknownst to Jake Masters, the thriving matchmaking service they'd slaved over would be halfway down the drain.
She played back the conversation she'd had with Beth last night and winced at her partner's tirade against her brother. If it were up to Gracie, she would have told Jake Masters where to get off from the git-go. If there was one thing Gracie Sweet couldn't stand, it was a person who wasn't motivated by at least something. Otherwise, why bother getting up in the morning?
Gracie stood up and walked over to the printer, where a copy of an ad she'd run on the Internet for all of ninety seconds was sitting. Just long enough for her to print it out so she had a bona fide reason to show up at Jake Masters's door. She stuck it in her briefcase, along with a doctored up résumé that said she'd worked as an assistant to the owner of another matchmaking company and had oodles of experience. The reason for leaving was because the company was being sold, and the new manager was going to do her job himself with the help of his girlfriend, and thus eliminate her robust $210,000 annual salary plus health benefits, sick pay, and vacation pay that added another $25,000 to her total compensation package.
If Jake Masters decided to verify her résumé — which Beth said he would not do — but if he did, it would all check out, thanks to having friends in high places.
Gracie didn't bother turning anything off because she knew she would be back in a few hours. Today's mission was, as Beth put it, to get Jake riled up enough that he would join the land of the living. Gracie wasn't so sure, but she was game if it would help Beth.
Gracie took a last look at herself in the mirror hanging on the bathroom door. She looked good, just the way the magazines said a woman who was applying for a job should look. Her hair was neat, her makeup perfect, she smelled good, and her Armani suit fit like it was made for her tall, lanky form. The clear-lens glasses she would put on to complete her professional look were in her pocket.
Time to go. She looked over at the massive dog that was her constant companion. "You have to stay behind, Giz. I won't be long." The big dog looked up at her and barked. Then he lowered himself and wiggled under her desk. "You know what to do if anyone breaks in. You go for the jools, and you hold on till I get home." Gizmo barked again, and Gracie giggled.
Muttering to herself, Gracie marched out of the house to the driveway, where her bright red Jeep Cherokee waited. She and Beth had bought the Jeeps at the same time so they would get a good deal. Beth was frugal, but then so was Gracie. They both loved bargains. They were so much alike it was almost scary.
As she drove to Jake Masters's house, she recalled the conversation she'd had last night with Beth. Beth had told her she'd called Moose and left a message saying that Gracie would be arriving at ten o'clock and to have the gate open, at which point she'd turned off her phone so that neither Moose nor her brother could say no to the meeting.
Gracie knew she was going in cold. Would she get tossed out on her ear? She had no clue. If so, it wouldn't be for lack of trying. The part she hated about all of this was that her life was changing, and if there was one thing in life Gracie Sweet hated, it was change of any kind. Beth was just the opposite, and that was why they got on so well and made the business work. Jake Masters was a whole other story. And yet Beth had such faith in her, Gracie simply could not let her down.
She looked at the speedometer. She was only going forty-five miles an hour, and the speed limit was fifty-five. She pressed the gas pedal, hating herself for doing it. Still, a professional such as herself would arrive on time for an interview. She started talking to herself the way she always did when she was stressed, and today, she was stressed to the max.
No one was more surprised than Gracie when she pulled into Jake Masters's driveway to find the gates standing wide open. She sailed through and parked right in front of the house. There were three steps that led up to what she supposed was a porch of sorts. She looked around before she rang the doorbell. Nice digs. Some heavy-duty money went into this place, she decided. The gardener alone probably cost a fortune. She recalled Beth saying the house sat on five acres, and all of it was manicured. She tried to remember what else Beth had told her. Twelve thousand square feet. Pool, tennis court, a home football field where Jake and his buddies used to wrestle up games on the weekends. A home theater, where he had an extensive library of thousands of videotaped football games.
Gracie rang the bell and took a deep breath.
The solid mahogany door opened. A skinny, squirrely-looking man wearing a baseball cap looked at her like she was a bug on a stick.
"I'm Grace Sweet. My friends call me Gracie. I'm here to ... I'm not sure, report for work or be interviewed by someone named Jake Masters. Miss Beth Masters hired me to manage a matchmaking service that supposedly is being operated on these premises." She waited. When the scraggly-looking man just stared at her, she snapped. "Well, do I come in or do I leave? Good manners dictate you make some kind of comment about now."
Moose stepped aside and said out of the corner of his mouth, "Well, you're here, so you might as well come in."
This was not going to be a walk in the park, Gracie decided as she followed Moose Dennison down a hall, through a trophy room, and into another room that looked like a rat's nest of an office. Jake Masters sat behind a glass-topped desk that was littered with what looked like nothing other than junk. She recognized him immediately, and decided that Beth was right — he was one good-looking hunk. Dark, curly hair, eyes the color of a summer sky, and he was tanned — in November, which told her he must have a tanning bed someplace in this monstrosity of a house.
Moose cleared his throat. "Lady to see you, boss. Says your sister hired her, and she is your new assistant."
"Here's my résumé in case you don't already have it. Also a copy of the ad I responded to. I interviewed twice with Miss Masters, and she hired me after the second interview. She said the salary is two hundred and fifty thousand a year plus a generous health-care package."
"I really don't need an assistant, Miss ... Sweet, is it?"
Definitely not a walk in the park. "Well, your sister, Miss Masters, said you did. She also said in the month since she turned over her business to you that you have not followed through. Ergo, here I am to do what you were supposed to do. How could you allow a multimillion-dollar business to stagnate like that?"
"I'm ... I'm trying to get a feel for it," Jake blustered.
"And ... how's that working for you?" Gracie snapped.
"There is no ... and. My sister just dumped this on me and left. I don't know the first thing about matchmaking. I'm a football player. Was a football player," he corrected his statement.
"And ..." Gracie said again.
"I'm working on it. Rome wasn't built in a day. I do not need an assistant."
"No, but fortunes are. Built in a day, that is. Just check out Wall Street on any given day, Mr. Masters. Miss Masters told me how hard she worked to make her company the thriving business it is today. A month of ... of ... nothing does not bode well. I worked for another matchmaking service," Gracie said, pointing to her résumé on the desk, "and I know what a dormant month can do. Your sister said you would do this."
"My sister said that?" Jake asked, his eyes spewing sparks.
"Among other things," Gracie shot back. Very definitely not a walk in the park.
"What other things?" Masters demanded.
Gracie squared her shoulders. "Look, Mr. Masters, I didn't come here to get involved in a situation between a brother and a sister. You two need to work that out between yourselves. I came here to do a job. I answered an ad on the Internet, your sister hired me, everything is in place, but now it doesn't look like that's all going to work out. Jobs that pay the kind of money I earn are not all that easy to come by. So, having said that, I guess I will have to sue you."
"Sue me! For what?" Jake bellowed.
"Discrimination, that's what. I'm a woman. You had a whole month to keep the company running, and all you can tell me is Rome wasn't built in a day. That doesn't work for me." Now Gracie's dander was up. She sucked in her breath and narrowed her eyes.
Moose wiggled his eyebrows at his boss, who didn't seem to notice, a signal to back off and leave well enough alone.
"What else did my sister tell you?"
"Probably nothing she didn't say to you herself. Miss Masters seemed pretty open and aboveboard to me, very much unlike you. But if you really want to know, she said you were a king-sized pain in the ass and not to pay any attention to what you say because you are so full of yourself it is a sin. She said you're a lazy laggard who has daily pity parties and in general you are a whiny puke. Now, those are her words, not mine. But I can see how they could turn into my own thoughts over time.
"She also said this room was depressing, smelly, and ugly. She's right. You need curtains in here. You need color on the walls. You need to get rid of this ugly carpet, which smells, and get a desk that has some spit to it. You need some plants to suck up that negative oxygen you expel. And some fresh flowers. Soothing music and maybe a fish tank."
Jake Masters was so speechless with indignation his face turned red under his tan. Moose Dennison excused himself so he could laugh out loud without being heard.
Jake finally found his tongue. "You can't sue me. I don't own this company. I am not in the matchmaking business."
"You wanna bet!" Gracie said, stuffing her résumé and the copy of the Internet ad into her shoulder bag. "And you just lied to me, Mr. Masters. Miss Masters, your sister, told me she did it all legally, and the company is yours until she says otherwise. I took that to mean until she finishes whatever it is she's doing in Nashville. You have a nice day now."
If Gracie Sweet had a fault, it was that she always wanted to have the last word. She leaned across the desk and said, "Your sister is such a nice professional person, considerate, hardworking, and courteous. You are nothing like her. Nothing!" she said, raising her voice. "You must really hate your sister to let a whole month go by doing nothing to help her. What an ungrateful person you are. Actually, I think you are a hateful ungrateful person to do what you're doing. Look forward to hearing from my attorney, Mr. Masters."
Moose Dennison knew when to step in. "Coffee anyone?" he said cheerfully. He swept a pile of junk off the corner of the desk and set down a plastic tray with three cups of black coffee on it.
"Now, why don't you two make nice and start all over? I'll moderate the conversation, so things don't get out of hand. Jake here has a problem when it comes to his ... domain. He doesn't like change. He's new to the matchmaking business, but he is trying to learn. And he's the first to admit he needs help. He just doesn't know how to ask for it. How am I doing so far, young lady? You willing to listen to this lout's apology and start over? I mean, you are here and all."
"Well ..." This is so not a walk in the park. The word lout worked for her. Beth was going to go nuclear when she reported in. "I have no interest in continuing this ... I don't even know if we can call it an interview unless Mr. Masters agrees that I have the job. So, do I or don't I?" Gracie said, leaning so close over the desk she could smell Jake's minty breath.
Jake clenched his teeth. "It would appear that you and my sister have me over a barrel. Okay, but no curtains," he said, looking at the heavy velvet draperies, which were closed.
"Now you see, Mr. Masters, that's a game changer for me. I happen to love curtains. They so make a room. I like to work in a cheerful atmosphere, and there is nothing cheerful about this ugly room. All it needs is a suit of armor, and you could call it a dungeon. Or it could easily double as a funeral home if you haul in a dead body. Are we clear on the curtains? Dotted Swiss."
"We're clear on the curtains," Moose said. Damn, he had to get out of there before he split a gut.
It was all Jake could do to nod. Then he wheeled himself as fast as he could out of the room.
Excerpted from "Perfect Match"
Copyright © 2015 Fern Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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