Melissa Bliss peeked out the reception-area window at the two hotties in the strip-center parking lot and let out a delicious sigh. Of course, all her ogling was in the name of love, for someone other than herself. Shane Carver was supervising the installation of Melissa’s sign for Island Bliss, her vacation property management and real estate office on the Isle of Palms. He was chatting with Parker Holbrook, who owned a good chunk of the island, including the strip center.
One of those two men might very well be the one for her new client, Savannah Sinclair, Melissa was sure of it. Both guys were drop-dead gorgeous and kind. Driven, but each had a true appreciation of living life to the fullest. Either would be a great match for Savannah. Maybe not her soul mate—the rarest find for a matchmaker like Melissa. But not everyone was lucky enough to find the one person on the planet created just for them.
Still, helping someone find their perfect match, so they could make their own happily ever after, was definitely her favorite thing in the world. Closely followed by her second—helping clients find their perfect vacation spot on the Isle of Palms.
“I’ve just got two questions for you, Melissa Bliss, and then I’m not saying nothing. No sir.” Her assistant, Pearl, was big and beautiful with the most gorgeous amber eyes that literally glowed with curiosity. She had always been as nosy as the day was long and utterly fascinated with Melissa’s matchmaking abilities.
“That’ll be the day, Pearl.”
“Are you scoping out one of those two fine men for Savannah Sinclair?” She nodded toward said hotties.
“What makes you so sure I’m scoping anybody out?” Melissa teased. “Maybe I’m just watching Shane install my sign to make sure it’s done right.”
“Because I know that look. I can see those sparks flying all around your pretty, blonde head while you work that Gullah magic. And from the way that hunk of a man, Shane Carver, keeps looking over here, I’d say those sparks are directed at you instead of some fancy socialite. What does that woman want with our island anyway, when she can afford to buy her own?”
Maybe the sparks Pearl thought she saw weren’t from Shane, but from finally seeing the sign go up for Melissa’s company, Island Bliss Property Sales and Management. It sure stirred up feelings of relief from years of fighting to make it through the real estate crash, of pride from building a vacation rental management company from scratch and surviving in a little cubbyhole of an office across the connector in Mt. Pleasant. But, as of today, she lived and worked on her island, and she couldn’t be happier.
“Savannah’s coming to stay for a few weeks, see how she likes it before she buys.” Savannah Sinclair had also donated a ton of money to build the new children’s wing at the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital, and to say thank you, she was being honored with a big fancy gala, twenty-eight days from today. “Besides, I got the feeling the times I talked to her that she’s not your average heiress divorcee.”
“Ooh, divorced, looking for love, and real estate. You must have peed your pants when you got that call.”
“She didn’t say she was looking for love—”
“But your matchmaking Spidey sense says she is, doesn’t it. Come on now, you can tell me. Or is it that Gullah hoo-doo?”
“You are one crazy assistant who’s making herself more dispensable by the second.”
Pearl snorted at the very idea.
Most people took one look at Melissa’s jade green eyes, long, strawberry-blond curls, and slightly tanned complexion and thought she was of Irish descent. But she was proud of her Gullah heritage from her mulatto great grandmother and prouder still that she had inherited the woman’s gift for matchmaking.
While all of Melissa’s friends either knitted in their spare time, or read, or were foodies, Melissa used her gift to bring couples together. And there’d been plenty, forty-nine to be exact, and she was just itching to make it an even fifty. Of course, she never took a dime for what some might consider a service, and Melissa never used the charms and potions like Gramma and her great Auntie Jo did, unless it was absolutely necessary. There was too much of a chance of something going wrong, of the powerful bad spirits people carried around every day overshadowing the good magic.
To be honest, Melissa didn’t believe magic had much to do with her success. She chalked it up to her God given ability and a razor sharp sense of zeroing in on the right guy. For everyone except her.
You would think always being the bridesmaid would bother the hell out of Melissa, but she got so much joy out of bringing the right two people together, she’d never minded one little bit. The only drawback to inheriting the matchmaking gene? Not all, but most, of the brides-to be wanted to thank her by asking her to buy a fabulous dress that could be worn again. And shoes, dyed-to-match.
She really needed to get back to her day job if she was going to pay for all those dresses, but her body hummed with anticipation.
“I haven’t felt anything definitive about Savannah’s match, but I’m working on it. I’m sure I’ll know more when she gets to the island, but I’m thinking Shane would be perfect. Of course, Parker would be, too, except for that whole rich, Charleston playboy thing he has going on. He may have played a little too long and missed the boat.”
Melissa almost fell off of her very tall wedges when both men turned her way and waved like they’d heard her. Parker shook Shane’s hand and then got into his Mercedes convertible—that probably cost more than her house—and drove away.
“I said I had two questions, so don’t go all hoo doo on me before I get my answers.”
Shane started toward the entrance of Island Bliss. God, he was gorgeous. Early thirties, tall, suntanned, rock-hard body.
“Just look at that man, walking this way, looking at you like you’re already his. When are you gonna get some of that magic for yourself? Forget what your Aunt Jo told you. You know your Gramma would have wanted to see you hitched and happy.”
“Mind your own business, Pearl, and I mean it.” Melissa hissed, just as Shane opened the door. “Morning, Shane. The sign looks great.”
Did Pearl actually sigh when he nodded her way and said hi? Or was that Melissa who sighed? Shane was serious eye-candy. Blond hair, piercing, brown eyes with little flecks of gold.
“Business must be good. New digs. New sign. And I heard from a couple of my clients, you’re giving Resort Rentals a run for their money.”
“I hope so.”
Pearl’s mischievous eyes glowed; she was all but pushing Shane and Melissa together. Hey, lady. I’m the matchmaker here. Melissa grabbed her purse, and motioned to Shane to step outside the office and away from the crazy amateur sitting at the front desk.
“Do you have an invoice for me?”
Shane followed Melissa out the door, and if asked, he would’ve followed her anywhere. Jesus, what was wrong with him? He’d never been like this with any woman. But Melissa Bliss wasn’t just any woman.
All she had to do was flash her smile and those emerald-green eyes at him and he was ready to do her bidding. But it wasn’t just her looks that undid him, although they were cause enough, there was some sort of connection between them that he didn’t understand. Happened every time they got with twenty feet of each other. He felt it, and he was pretty sure Melissa did, too. Although, he’d worked as hard at ignoring it as she had, until recently.
Damn, if he didn’t find himself creating reasons to see her. He was a contractor. She was a realtor and property manager, so it wasn’t like he had to think too hard for an excuse. But a woman with that kind of power was dangerous. He’d had dangerous before. Been there, bought the t-shirt, thank you very much, and it had ended badly. He didn’t like feeling powerless around Melissa. Maybe having sex with her would get her out of his system. Or wreck his perfectly constructed life.
He didn’t realize, before he’d zoned out, he’d been staring at her breasts. Still staring. He shook his head. She dropped the little, gold starfish charm, and it fell just above what one of his workers had called her great rack. While the guy was right, Shane had made it clear that nobody was to even think things like that about his clients, much less say them. Shane was surprised he’d gotten so angry, but the guy got it—take out the word client and insert Melissa Bliss.
He couldn’t blame the guy; Melissa was aptly named. Every inch, every curve of her body was pure bliss. While Shane liked his women dark-haired and dark-eyed, tall and tanned, he was attracted to the perfect petite strawberry blond. Too damn attracted.
Shane shook his head. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“The invoice. For the sign. Do you have one for me?”
“Oh, yeah, Marty’s sending it over.” At least he’d told her to. He could run it back by Island Bliss later. Put it right on Melissa’s desk. It would give him another chance to see her. Christ, was he really that much of a goner? Maybe. Probably.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Melissa pulled an iPad out of the huge purse she carried. The thing was as big as a pillowcase, and seemed to hold an endless amount of stuff. She scrolled down until she found what she was looking for. “The Jordan’s house on 42nd Street, it’s one of my listings, and I have a contract on it. It’s contingent on whether or not the potential buyers can make the renovations they have in mind for the place. Wanna meet me there to take a look at it with them?”
Shane knew the house well, it was borderline perfection, and these clowns want to screw with that? They’d make great clients, but if it would get him some more face time with Melissa… “Sure. What time?”
“Around three. I know this is last minute, Shane, so if something happens and you can’t come—”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there.” And there he went again, dropping whatever he had to do, which included an appointment with the City Planning Commission and a drive by on a house he was building in Summerville. Maybe he needed to just forget about Melissa Bliss, and move on. Yeah, tell that to my dreams.
“Thanks, Shane. This sale is a biggie,” she called over her shoulder.
He watched her sweet ass swaying in her short skirt as she walked away.
“Hey, boss?” Shane waited until the door closed behind her to see what Rowdy wanted. The kid was a full-time student, putting himself through school, and he was less intimidated by Shane than the other guys were when it came to Melissa. “Walk the walk.”
Melissa was eating the last of her sandwich when her cell phone rang. She recognized the number from the forty-two other calls she’d received from Savannah Sinclair leading up to today. Melissa didn’t mind. Sure, Savannah was a little anal about planning things to the nth degree, but there was something about her that was likeable, something more than just being a long-term guest on the island, and more than donating a gazillion dollars for the new children’s wing at the Medical College of South Carolina University Hospital.
Savannah was sweet, a little quirky, and in her last phone call, during a heart-to-heart moment, she’d tearfully confessed she was coming to the Isle of Palms to mend her broken heart that had refused to heal, even three years after her divorce. Of course, she had no idea she was talking to a bona fide professional in matters of the heart. She just wanted to spend a few weeks on the Isle of Palms, see Charleston, and maybe look into buying a property, if she fell in love with one. Meeting someone would be great, but if she didn’t, she said coming to the island was the really first nice thing she’d done for herself since she and her husband split.
“Hey, Savannah. Are you almost to the exit?”
“My GPS says I’m ten minutes away.”
“Great. I can’t wait for you to see your place and the island.”
“Do you have time to grab some lunch?”
“I was just going to ask you the same thing. Pick me up at the office, we’ll swing by the townhouse, drop off your stuff, and eat at a cute little place here on the island.”
“Fabulous. See you in a few.”
Melissa hung up the phone, grabbed her purse, and headed out of her office.
“Pearl, Savannah will be here in a few minutes. I’m going to run her over to the duplex, get her settled in, and take her to lunch.”
“Sounds like you’ll be cutting it awful close. You told the Gladstones you’d meet them at three.”
“Shane’s still out here; I’ll tell him I may be a few minutes late. He’s perfectly capable of charming the Gladstones until I get there.”
“He’s perfectly capable of charming something else if you’d let him. Uh hmmm.” Pearl’s know-it-all sound. “That Shane Carver is a good-looking man. And did you notice that baseball butt? I sure did, and I’ll bet you did, too.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, and what in the hell is a baseball butt?”
“You think I’ve been watching the Braves games with Henry for forty-years for the baseball? Take a look tonight, they’re playing the Dodgers. You’ll see what I mean.”
“I’m ignoring your crazy talk about Shane. For the billionth time, knock it off. We’re just friends. And I’m leaving now.”
Melissa stopped in the entrance doorway. Shane was still in the parking lot with his back to her, talking to one of his men. She wasn’t checking him out, but he was standing right there. It would have been rude to interrupt.
“Uh hmmm,” Pearl chuckled. “See what I mean?”
Shane Carver had a nice ass, so what? Their relationship was strictly professional, except he always dropped whatever he was doing whenever she asked him to help her. But still.
“I’m going to have lunch with a client, Shane. I may be a little late meeting with the Gladstones, can you handle them until I get there?”
“Don’t I always?” Okay, so he’d done this a time or twelve. “I’ve got a better idea, I’ll pick you up wherever you’re having lunch, and I’ll get you there at three on the dot. These people don’t sound like the type who understands island time.”
“Hmm. Maybe you’re right, but no need to pick me up. If I can just catch a ride back to the office with you after the meeting, I’ll have Savannah drop me off at the Jordan’s house.”
Almost on cue, at 1:30 on the dot, a sleek, black Maserati sedan pulled up. The passenger window went down and a woman, maybe in her mid-thirties, leaned toward the opening. “Hi, I’m Savannah. You aren’t, by any chance, Melissa Bliss, are you?”
Wow. For someone with such a flashy car, Savannah wasn’t at all what Melissa expected. She didn’t look anything like she did when she was a fixture in the tabloids years ago. Still, she was pretty in a classic sort of way. No makeup, dressed in jeans, and a well-worn Red Sox t-shirt.
“Hi, Savannah. Welcome to the Isle of Palms.” Melissa introduced her to Shane, and eyed the two of them as they exchanged pleasantries. Hmm. No sparks. Not even a fizzle. Nothing.
“I’m so excited, Melissa. Hop in and show me my home for the next four weeks.”
Melissa looked at Shane. “See you soon?”
He gave her a look that was all heat, when he should have been ogling the blond in the car, and then grinned after he’d made her blush. “You bet.”
A lot of Yankees who came to the island to buy or to stay short term had money, and all of them acted the part. While Melissa talked a mile a minute, telling Savannah all about the island, she wondered why someone of Savannah’s means was traveling without a companion or a staff. Why had she driven all the way from Boston? Although, if Melissa owned Savannah’s car, she would have driven instead of flying commercial. But Savannah was the kind of girl who probably had a fleet of private jets or at the very least a jet service.
In the times they’d talked, Savannah hadn’t said much about the divorce, except that it had gutted her. Years ago, running with Paris Hilton’s crowd, Savannah had been a fixture in the tabloids. The press had a feeding frenzy over that group of trust-fund babies who lived to party and make headlines. And then Savannah met her husband and everything changed, or at least she changed.
Even though Savannah didn’t give them anything to write about and seemed to be living a normal life, it made the paparazzi even more ravenous for anything that that might make the rags. There were lots of pictures of her and her husband avoiding the press. And when they had to appear at some function, he looked like a pallbearer and she looked almost afraid of the media attention she once clamored for.
Okay, Melissa had snooped a bit, trying to find some more details about Savannah, but surprisingly, there were very few after the divorce, and nothing about Savannah’s ex-husband, Doctor Jack Johns. It was as if he ceased to exist after the split.
Savannah took her maiden name back and it seemed she used her power and influence to erase her marriage, herself, and made sure both stayed invisible. As the third richest woman in the country, she was the kind of girl who could afford to have a round-the-clock legal and techno wizards making sure she stayed out of the news. The only thing she couldn’t erase, the date of her marriage to Jack Johns, and the date of her divorce not even two years later.
Melissa was understandably nervous about a woman of Savannah’s means seeing the small townhome Melissa had picked out online. She was sure someone like Savannah would be disappointed when they pulled into the driveway of the modest duplex on the beach. But Savannah just sat there with a huge grin on her face for so long, Melissa almost expected her to laugh out loud, like the house was some kind of a joke. And then she did laugh.
Maybe lunch at the Acme Grill on the island wouldn’t be up to her standards either. Maybe Melissa needed to pull some strings and get them into one of the swanky Charleston country clubs.
“Savannah, if the house isn’t to your liking, I have other properties I can—”
“It’s perfect,” she said, getting out of the car and grabbing one of her suitcases from the back. “Just what I was hoping for.”
“Really?” Wow, Savannah Austin Montigue Sinclair, formerly Johns, was just full of surprises. “And it’s for sale.”
Boy, could the woman eat. Savannah ordered off of the dinner menu while Melissa chatted about girl stuff she’d need to know about the area. Where to get her nails done. Shopping. The ‘must sees’ in Charleston and the Lowcountry, in general.
“Of course, I’ll have meetings with the folks at the hospital and then the gala for the children’s wing just before I go home. But until then…” She pulled a moleskin tablet out of her bag, slipped the fat, red rubber band off of it, and went down a long list of things she wanted to do, all of them listed alphabetically beginning with touring the Aiken-Rhett house in Charleston. Okay, so she was as anal as she claimed. “Paddle boarding. South Carolina Aquarium. USS Yorktown-Naval Museum. Waterfront Park.” She slipped the rubber band back on the moleskin. “That about covers it, but I feel like I’m missing something.”
“Sounds to me like you’ve got a full four weeks ahead of you, maybe you should consider staying a little longer if you want to see and do everything on your list.”
Savannah glanced down at her tablet. Was she fighting back tears?
“Yes. Well, it helps to stay busy.” After three years, she’d either been through a hell of a divorce or she’d lost a hell of a man. Maybe both.
End of Excerpt