TAMED BY YOU | LAUREL HEIGHTS

 

sweetonyou

First rule of matchmaking: Don’t fall in love with your client.

Second rule of matchmaking: Don’t fall in love with your client!

Valentine Jones has never been good at following rules, especially the one that matters most: following the family tradition of being a matchmaker. She’s tried, but she happens to suck at it. So when her mother swoops in to help, Valentine is determined to prove she doesn’t need a babysitter.

Enter Ethan “The Predator” Hunter, ex-fighter and all-around hunk. Career on hold because of injury, his sole focus is to get back in the ring. He has no interest in the people—until Valentine sets her matchmaking sights on him. Suddenly Ethan’s world is filled with nonstop commotion and lessons on attracting women. Only Ethan doesn’t want a random woman. He wants his matchmaker—rules be damned. { scroll down for sneak peek! }

 

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SNEAK PEAK
Tamed By You • Chapter One

“The way you set this up is brilliant, Valentine.” Jon’s fingers danced over the keyboard, his focus intent on the code scrolling across the laptop screen. “When are you going to decide to stop playing around with people’s love lives and embrace your true calling as a software engineer?”

“I’ll never go to the dark side.” Smiling, Valentine settled on her living room floor next to him, adjusting the cushion under her. “Besides, I wasn’t fated to be an engineer.”

“It’s a damn shame. I’d hire you in a second.”

Because he wanted her.

She wrinkled her nose and folded her legs. She’d met him last year, when she first moved to San Francisco. They’d gone out three times before they’d both had epiphanies: She’d realized Jon wasn’t for her, and Jon had realized he was in love with her. Or so he thought.

They all thought that. Every guy she went out with “fell in love” with her after the first date.

It sounded so conceited, even in her own mind, but in reality it was just annoying. It wasn’t as if she was some vixen, or beautiful, or even that interesting. She was plain Valentine Jones, matchmaker, with straight red hair and freckles on her cheeks. If she had boobs, she’d understand why they acted the way they did, but she was lacking there, too.

They didn’t even know her. How could they, after so few dates? They just saw her as a blank canvas to pin their hopes and dreams on. They never noticed something was missing.

She did. Love and relationships were her business, after all. Even if she sucked at it.

Sighing, she returned her attention to her app. “So you think everything looks good? The database will hold up to a lot of traffic?”

“For sure.” Nodding, he closed the laptop and handed it to her.

She reached to take it, only he didn’t let go, using it to pull her closer.

Fortunately, right then her phone rang. She let go of the laptop, ignoring Jon’s grunt as it dropped on his knee, and picked up her phone. She breathed in relief when she saw Isabella’s face on the screen. She held up her phone. “It’s my sister. I need to take it.”

He squinted at the phone. “I knew you were twins, but you two look exactly alike.”

They didn’t—at all. They were mirror images of each other. Where Valentine had a constellation of freckles on the left side of her face, Isabella had the same on the right. They had dimples on opposite cheeks, and birthmarks on opposite hips. That didn’t even get into the differences in their personalities.

But she wasn’t going to argue. She simply turned away from Jon and answered the phone. “Isabella, I think I finally finished the matchmaking app. We’ve been testing the back end and it seems to be in order.”

“We?”

She should have known that’d be the thing her sister picked up on. “My friend Jon is helping.”

“Platonic friend or freaky friend?”

“Isabella,” she admonished, turning her head so Jon wouldn’t see her flush.

“Oh. He’s part of your harem. I’m amazed at how you manage to turn them into devoted slaves. It’s impressive, actually. But I didn’t call to talk about all your beck-and-call men. Mom’s on her way to see you.”

Valentine slid off her cushion. “What?

“Mom. Is. Coming. To. See. You.” Isabella said succinctly.

“Are you okay?” Jon asked, reaching out to steady her.

She waved him off. “Why is Mom flying up here?” she asked her sister.

“To check on you. Duh.”

The cup of coffee she’d had earlier roiled in her stomach, bitter, like an acidic lake. She thought of the number of matches she’d made since she’d moved to Laurel Heights, and the lake tried to flood up her throat. “Did you say something to her?”

“Of course not. You know me better than that. I’m on your side.”

She was—they’d always been each other’s defender. Considering how complicated everything was, it was amazing they didn’t resent each other.

“You better pull it together,” Isabella warned. “It sounded like she was staying for a couple days.”

Valentine groaned. “How much time do I have to steel myself?”

“She’s on the morning flight. She arrives at ten.”

“That was fifteen minutes ago, Isabella!” She jumped to her feet. “Why didn’t you call sooner? Like last week?”

“I didn’t know until this morning. She called me from the airport, and you’re a grump in the morning. I was giving you time to wake up. Valentine, she’s been a little edgy lately. Try to go easy on her, okay?”

“What does that mean?” She frowned. “And I’m always easy on her.”

“And I’m Mother Teresa.” There was a youthful shriek through the line. “I’ve got to go. The kids are trying to kill each other. I’ll call you later.”

“Wait, Isabella—”

“I love you, dear sister. Take care of Mom. She needs you.”

What did that mean? Valentine stared at the phone, perplexed. But then she noticed the time and realized her mother would be on her doorstep at any moment.

She turned to Jon. She pictured the commotion it’d cause if her mother found him in her living room, and the panic mounted. “You need to go. Right now.”

He stood up too slowly for her peace of mind. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, if you get out of here before my mom arrives.” She grabbed his arm with one hand and his jacket with the other. She dragged him to her door, gave him the jacket, and kissed his cheek. “I really appreciate your technical expertise, Jon.”

“But—”

“Trust me, if you knew my mother, you’d thank me.” She pushed him out the door and locked it.

She looked down at her clothes, yelped, and ran for her bedroom. Venus Jones did not approve of yoga pants and a tank top. Sloppy, she’d say, her nose twitching as if she smelled something putrid. As matchmakers, they had to project the image of competent businesswomen to instill trust in their clients.

Since Valentine was being ambushed, she’d need armor. She rummaged through her small, crammed closet. The decision was easy: nylons, slip, camisole, suit. She hurried to get ready, applying just enough makeup to pass muster and twisting her hair into a sedate bun.

She looked in the mirror. She appeared competent and accomplished, like someone you’d trust the fate of your love life to.

Meaning she looked completely unlike herself.

Sighing, she crammed her feet into a pair of matching pumps, grabbed her purse, and ran out the door.

Fortunately, she had a very short commute. Walking out the door, she went downstairs and let herself into her office. She made a face as she stepped inside,  pretending to be blinded by the glare of the gilded furniture and mirrored surfaces.

Not her idea, by the way. It was “corporate branding.” At least that was what she called it. Really it’d been her grandmother’s aesthetic, and what Grandma had wanted still went, even though she’d passed away over a year ago.

In fact, her mom had taken to overly enforcing all of Grandma’s rules since her death. They all missed Aphrodite Simmons, but Venus especially missed her mother and this was a way to keep her close. Which was why Valentine let her mom get away with the harassment, even though it drove her crazy. Of course, she’d also moved four hundred miles away to San Francisco.

Valentine had just turned on the neon MATCHMAKER sign in the window and settled onto a stiff chair when the bell signaled that someone had entered. She looked up, ready to pretend to be surprised by her mother’s appearance.

But then she saw her mom, and she didn’t have to pretend to be surprised at all. Venus Jones looked nothing like her normally meticulous self. Her dress was wrinkled, hanging on her loosely like she’d lost a bunch of weight. Her sweater was buttoned incorrectly, and her hair was flat on one side, as though she’d slept on it. Her mascara smeared under her eyes so it looked like she had dark circles.

She looked like a wreck.

Valentine squinted. Actually, maybe her mother did have dark circles. She gaped, alarmed. “Mom? Were you in an accident?”

“Really, Valentine, don’t be silly.” Venus set her bag down by the entrance and looked around. A strange expression crossed her face, making her look like a lost girl, which was so contrary to her normal I’m in charge of the world attitude. Then she straightened her spine. “I know Isabella called to tell you I was on my way, so you don’t have to play clueless.”

Yes, but her sister hadn’t told her what a state their mom would be in. She got up to hug her mom, gently because Venus looked like she’d break with too much pressure. Her mother smelled like roses, like she always had. The scent of love, Venus had told them a long time ago, and it reassured Valentine a little.

When they separated, Valentine surreptitiously sniffed her own suit. She smelled like mothballs. “Sit down, Mom. Do you want some hot chocolate or something?”

“No, thank you.” Her mom looked around the room as she perched primly on a seat. “This is nice, sweetheart. Your grandmother would have approved.”

Her mother’s voice hitched, like she was about to burst into tears, and it freaked Valentine out. Venus Jones never cried—not even at her mother’s funeral. “What’s going on, Mom? Did something happen? Is Dad okay?”

“Your father is fine.” Venus clenched her hands in her lap, knuckles white. “Everything is fine.”

Call her crazy, but she didn’t believe that, especially in light of Isabella’s warning.

“Except you, Valentine,” her mom said. “You, I worry about.”

“Seriously?” She wanted to ask her mom if she’d looked in a mirror lately, but she heard her sister’s voice telling her to be gentle, and she exhaled instead. “Why do you worry about me?”

“The number of matches you’ve made since you moved here is appalling, Valentine.”

“This is what you want to talk about?”

“Yes, of course. What else would there be?”

She didn’t know—maybe why her mother looked like she was on the verge of a breakdown?

But she knew better than to say that. Sighing, Valentine repeated the standard reply she always used when this topic came up. “I’m still establishing a client base, but I made a match a few weeks ago. It was in my report.”

“Yes, between the accountant and the photographer.”

The way her mother said it made it sound like she was a slacker. She wasn’t a slacker—she just wasn’t a great matchmaker. But pairing up her friends Marley and Brian had been brilliant.

And Isabella’s idea.

Not that she was about to admit to her mom that Isabella had orchestrated all the matches she’d ever made. She just said, “I thought it was a good start in this new location.”

“Yes, it’s a start.” Venus put her reading glasses low on her nose and withdrew a leather-bound notebook from her purse. “But it’s time to get you on track.”

She watched as her mom pulled out stacks of printouts. She bit her lip to keep from complaining, because her mother looked like her normal self for the first time since she arrived. Instead, she tried to joke. “You came an awful long way to give me all that. You could have just emailed them to me.”

“I’m not just giving them to you. I’m helping you.”

Valentine knew that tone of voice, and it never boded well. “What does that mean?”

Venus looked at her over the rim of her glasses. “I’ve come to help you get on track. You should be producing more matches, Valentine.”

She shifted her legs. “I told you my first location in San Francisco wasn’t the best, and I only moved here to Laurel Heights—”

“Four months ago,” her mother said, flipping through her pages. “In that time, you’ve made one match. I’m worried.”

“San Francisco is different than Los Angeles, Mom. I’m still trying to find my groove.” She hoped that was enough truth that her mother wouldn’t notice the lie.

Venus lowered her glasses. “You haven’t even found someone for yourself, Valentine.”

“It’s like the cobbler’s children having no shoes,” Valentine said. Except she’d said it so many times it sounded flat even to her own ears.

“It’s unacceptable. Who’s going to trust a matchmaker who can’t find her own true love? We always find our own matches early. I was eighteen when I recognized your father as my true love, and your grandmother was sixteen when she found your grandfather. Even Isabella, who isn’t a matchmaker, found her husband in high school.” Her mother leaned forward, intense. “We’re going to change that.”

She stilled. “What?”

“I told you, Valentine. I’m here to help you. We’re going to get you established and making money. I don’t want to have to worry about you after I die.”

“You’re not going to die, Mom.” She rolled her eyes. “And if you do, I doubt my fate will be of much concern wherever you end up.”

“I’ll always worry about you.” Her mother’s face lit with the fierceness of a mama bear. “Although I have no idea how I could worry about you more than I already do. Really, Valentine, I don’t understand why you aren’t embracing your fate as a matchmaker. Your grandmother would be devastated if she knew how you were floundering.”

Valentine’s gut twisted with that feeling she always got as a child when her mother was disappointed in her. Now though, resentment wrestled in there with all the inadequacies, because she’d never asked to be a matchmaker—it’d just been expected of her. She bit her lip against the words on her tongue. She couldn’t be sure whether they were apologies or rantings.

“And as we get the business rolling,” her mom continued, “we’ll also work on finding you your own special someone. A matchmaker who can’t find a mate for herself isn’t worth her weight in candied hearts.”

She could just picture the kind of guy her mom would set her up with. A banker. Or—worse—a marketing exec in a blue button-down shirt and khaki pants.

She hated khaki. It was a non-color.

Smiling benignly like she was trying to calm a potentially dangerous creature, she shook her head. “I appreciate the concern, Mom, but—”

“Of course I’m concerned. I’m your mother. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“That’s sweet, but you can’t rush love.” When in doubt, always regurgitate your mother’s own words. “It can take time.”

Venus lifted her chin, a determined light in her eyes. “With two of us working on it, we’re sure to make headway.”

“What if it takes a long time? You can’t stay here that long. Can you?” she asked faintly, fearing the answer.

“It’ll be difficult being apart from your father, but we decided for you we could do it.”

“What does that mean?” She frowned. “Are you and Dad okay? You’re never apart.”

“Your father and I are fine,” her mom said unconvincingly.

Were they having trouble? Panic rose in her chest at the thought. Her parents were the best couple ever. They still held hands and kissed in public. If their relationship was on the rocks . . . Valentine shook her head. Wouldn’t Isabella have said something?

“This isn’t about me, Valentine. This is about you. We’re going to get you on track, and I’m not leaving until we do.”

“How ‘on track’ does my life have to be?” she asked hesitantly.

“Ten new clients,” her mother said instantly. “And one good-quality match.”

Valentine blinked. “Not that you’ve thought about this or anything.”

“It’s what your grandmother would have wanted.” A shimmer of tears filmed Venus’s eyes, and the steel seemed to leach from her spine. “If she were still alive, she’d be here sitting with me, and the three of us would make this right.”

Her heart broke, seeing her mother’s open heartache. She hated her mom interfering in her life, but seeing her so upset was even worse. Valentine reached out to hug her, to try to offer some small condolences even though she couldn’t possibly know what she was going through.

Her mother stayed stiff in Valentine’s arms, sniffling occasionally. Then she withdrew and grabbed a tissue from the box on the table. “It’s right for me to be here. I had doubts on the way here, but now I’m sure.”

“You are?”

“Yes. This is good.” Her mom blew her nose and then gave her an I mean business look. “I’m not leaving until your life is straightened out, Valentine.”

There was no doubt in her mind that that was a threat, and with the way her life had been going lately, it meant her mother was here to stay for a very long time.

 

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