“Dear, could I possibly get you to do something for me?”
On the surface, the question seemed harmless enough, especially when the petite white-haired lady asking it looked like she could have stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. When one actually knew the matchmaking schemer that lay beneath that innocent exterior, though, one learned to pay close attention before committing to anything.
And Nadia Normandy had long ago learned to pay very close attention. Straightening from behind the Heavenly Bites display case in which she was rearranging a tray of cream puffs, she put both hands squarely on the counter and leaned forward to look the older woman straight in the eye. Well, forward and down; Mrs. Beasley was only four foot eleven. “Who is he, Mrs. B?”
Her customer blinked at her through enormous tortoiseshell glasses, her eyes wide with innocence. Considering how much the huge lenses magnified her eyes, they looked very wide indeed. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Last time you asked me to do something for you with that little quaver in your voice, I wound up agreeing to a blind date with a carpet salesman who had an absolutely out-of-this-world sweating problem. What was wrong with that poor man anyway? Was
it something glandular?”
“My dry cleaner’s son is very nice,” Mrs. Beasley huffed with what struck Nadia
as incredibly insincere indignation.
“He used my cashmere scarf to wipe his forehead at dinner. Twice.”
“Yes, but he did offer to get it cleaned for you at his mother’s shop for a fantastic discount.”
“Sorry, Mrs. B.” Nadia bent down to resume working on the cream puffs. “I can find my own dates just fine, thank you.” She’d gotten nibbles from three different prospects this week alone due to all the holiday parties she’d attended. A hunky physical trainer, a Latin musician with a smile to die for, and the third one—what was he again? A dogwalker? Dog trainer maybe? Or maybe he just liked dogs. All she really remembered about him was his great tan because she was impressed that he managed to maintain it so well despite it being the middle of winter. Well, maybe she was more curious than impressed.
The fact that his tan was the only memorable thing about him was a bad sign, though. She’d give him the benefit of the doubt and one date, but somehow she suspected there wouldn’t be a second one.
“Pretty thing like you? Of course you don’t need help finding somebody.” And yet it was impossible to miss the glance Mrs. Beasley gave to the ringless finger on Nadia’s left hand, especially since her eyes were magnified to twice their normal size by her tremendous lenses.
Nadia raised one eyebrow to let her know that she understood exactly what that look meant but chose not to comment.
“And anyway,” the older woman continued, “that wasn’t the kind of favor I was
going to ask of you.”
Closing up the display case, Nadia returned her attention to Mrs. Beasley. “So there’s no man involved in this favor whatsoever?”
Now Nadia raised both eyebrows. “Uh huh, that’s what I thought.”
“It is not what you think. You see, the young man who handles all of my financial matters for me is a sweet boy, but he’s also rather…awkward.”
“Socially speaking, yes. You see, Benji—“
“Benji? This guy is named after a dog? And he’s an accountant—oh, Mrs. B…” Shaking her head, Nadia reached for a cloth and began wiping down the counter.
“Benji is short for Benjamin actually, but Benji really suits him better. You’ll see what I mean when you meet him.”
“Mrs. B, I am not going out with your accountant.”
“I’m not asking you to see him socially, dear, I’m asking you to…to educate him.”
Nadia blinked and stopped wiping the counter. “Educate him? In what, scones and shortbread?”
“In social niceties, particularly in regards to women. How to talk to them, where to meet them, that sort of thing.” Mrs. Beasley patted Nadia on the hand. “You’re so
good with people, dear. You’d be a natural at this!”
“At teaching a man how to pick up women? Mrs. B, what exactly do you think I
do when I go out?”
“Who better to teach a man what women want than a woman?”
It was hard to argue with that. Still, the prospect of becoming a dating coach to a complete stranger was about as appealing as a second date with the uber-moist carpet salesman. “What about asking your granddaughter? She’s not exactly shy with other people. Why not have her do it?”
Mrs. Beasley fidgeted and cleared her throat. “Aimee is… unconventional. I’m not sure she’d be the best person to give Benji advice on dating.”
Unconventional. That was a good word for Aimee. The girl was probably a few years younger than Nadia, somewhere in her mid-twenties, and she had come to live with her grandmother a few months ago. In that short time, she’d gone from blonde to redhead to jet-black hair with red streaks. Nadia tried to picture Aimee even in the same room as an accountant and failed. “Fair enough.”
“Then you’ll do it?”
Nadia couldn’t hold back a wince. “Mrs. B—“
“Please, dear? It’s for a good cause, I promise.”
“Is this because Trish is dating Ian now, and you want a matchmaking project?” Nadia asked, referring to her best friend and business partner. “Who’s next on your list, your pharmacist?”
“No,” Mrs. Beasley replied without a moment’s hesitation. “My hairdresser.”
Nadia started to laugh and then stopped as she realized the other woman was
serious. “Wait—you actually do have a list?”
“Never mind that, dear. Now, Benji works nine to five most days, so it would
probably be best if you met him after work.”
“Hang on, I never said I’d—“
“Please, dear? At my age, I have so few pleasures left, and who knows how much time I even have at all, really.” The quaver was back in Mrs. Beasley’s voice, and she let one wrinkled hand hover tremulously over her heart as if it might give out on her within the next three seconds.
It was blatant manipulation, Nadia thought. It was also very effective. “Mrs. B,” she groaned, pleading.
“You could consider it a Christmas present to me.”
“I gave you your favorite homemade lemon tarts as your Christmas present!”
The old woman let both hands tremble over her heart now.
“Shame on you,” Nadia muttered, folding her arms across her chest and frowning but also slumping against the back counter in defeat.
Mrs. Beasley beamed at her. “I think the best thing would be for you two to meet at that charming little coffee shop on Third and Oakdale,” she told Nadia, the quaver in her voice vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. “It’s midway between both of your workplaces.” Reaching into her purse with a hand that was as steady as a rock, she pulled out a little slip of paper and handed it to Nadia. “Here’s the address along with Benji’s phone number. I’ll tell him to expect you.”
“What? Mrs. B, it’s Christmas Eve!”
“You’re right,” Mrs. Beasley agreed after a moment’s consideration. “Silly me. I
suppose the day after Christmas is more reasonable.”
“The day after Christmas—“ Nadia sputtered, incredulous.
The older woman’s lip quivered. “I just thought it would be so nice to help Benji start the new year off right, and—and—“ Her hand found its way to her heart again.
“All right, fine, Mrs. B. I’ll do it. But you know, woman, you really ought to be regulated by the federal government. I’ll bet you can squeeze out tears on command, can’t you?”
Mrs. Beasley only patted Nadia’s hand again. “How does five o’clock sound?”
“Like emotional blackmail, but other than that, fine.”
“Lovely. Then I’ll just take a dozen of those gingerbread men, and I’ll be on my way.”
Scooping up the requested treats and putting them in a bag, Nadia rang them up and handed them over. “I don’t even have the first idea of what to say to this guy, you know.”
“You’ll think of something wonderful, dear, I just know it.”
The woman paused with her hand on the door. “Yes?”
“Am I on that list of yours?”
“Merry Christmas, dear,” was all Mrs. Beasley called out in response as she stepped out into the wintry weather.
Nadia stared after her. “Girl,” she said aloud to herself in the empty bakery, “I have the distinct feeling that you are in deep trouble.”