Baby, It's Cold Outside

Contents

Searching for You BY JENNIFER PROBST

It’s a Wonderful Tangled Christmas Carol BY EMMA CHASE

Saving Grace BY KRISTEN PROBY

Safe in His Arms BY MELODY ANNE

Rekindle the Flame BY KATE MEADER

Searching for You
BY JENNIFER PROBST

chapter 1

Kate Seymour studied the computer in front of her, squinted, and read the entry again.

And again.

Her heart beat faster and that familiar electrical buzz tingled under her skin. Impossible. They were completely different—a match made in literal hell, not heaven. Yet numbers like this didn’t lie. Time to bring in the troops.

She hit the intercom button. “Hey, Arilyn? Can you come in here? And bring Kennedy.”

“Sure.”

A few minutes later, her business partners and best friends joined her in the office. Her face softened into a smile at their presence. Their drunken plans years ago to start their own matchmaking agency in Verily, upstate New York, sounded impossible, but they’d made it work. More so. With over a dozen marriages, and endless statistically proven committed happy relationships, they’d made the dream a reality. Kinnections was an exclusive matchmaking agency that catered to the twenty-five-to-forty crowd, and had already been featured in local newspapers and television stations as the new “hot” way to meet a mate. Hell, it had actually worked for her and Kennedy. Now if only they could find Arilyn her match.

Kennedy Ashe, the social recruiter and makeover expert, slid into the chair and let out a sigh. Her burnished hair, whiskey eyes, and plum Donna Karan suit screamed polish and success. “Please let this be good news. I’ve already depleted my hotel bottles of liquor. Is it Friday yet?”

Arilyn shook her head in sympathy, her strawberry hair streaming down her back in pin straight strands. Green eyes shone with concern. She was both counselor and computer guru, and dedicated her life to living a natural, healthy pathway to happiness. She wore her usual outfit of organic cottons, and spent her free time in yoga classes or with the rescue shelter. “Do you need some chocolate, sweets? I have a Kashi bar in my purse.”

Kennedy flashed her a grateful smile. “No, thanks. I’m saving my calories. I’m bummed over the breakup with Sally and Tom. I thought they were perfect together. I hate when I screw up.”

Kate tapped her finger against the desk. “We can’t be one hundred percent all the time. We’ll rematch them and maybe find a better fit.”

“I guess.” Kennedy pouted. She hated when one of her own matches failed. They all took their jobs seriously, knowing the journey to love was filled with a mix of emotions that included heartbreak too many times.

“Which brings me to why I asked you in here.” She swiveled her Apple screen around so her friends could look. “Remember I told you about my neighbor Riley Fox?”

Arilyn nodded. “CEO of Chic Publishing. Named Fortune’s woman of the year, gorgeous, smart, and completely kick-ass. Can’t believe she still lives in Verily. Aren’t her offices in Manhattan?”

“Yes, but Riley prefers to stay out of the limelight. She’s been a longtime resident here. I’ve been trying to convince her for years to sign up with Kinnections, but she always refused.”

Kennedy cocked her head. “Riley probably doesn’t need us. With her background, I bet finding men isn’t a problem.”

“Guess again.”

Arilyn let out a small sigh as an inner lightbulb cranked on. “Ah, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Plenty of quantity but little quality?”

Kate grinned. “Her last date drove her to the Ben & Jerry’s and a weekend marathon of Top Chef. She’s thirty-three, and her biological clock just turned on.”

“Ticktock,” Kennedy said. “Rotten piece of machinery if you ask me. If it was up to me, I would’ve pulled the batteries long ago.”

Kate’s lips tugged in a grin. “How many times has Nate proposed this month?”

Her friend grunted. “A few.”

Kennedy had found her soul mate and the love of her life in Nate Dunkle, but she was still refusing to surrender to the final step of marriage. Kate was enjoying watching her friend’s barriers crash down one by one as Nate first moved in, then dedicated himself to proving marriage wasn’t a deadly trap for females.

“Well, Riley has a different approach. I’ve done her intake, and she’s refused counseling and makeover.”

“The woman was on the cover of Fortune. She doesn’t need a trip to the mall,” Kennedy pointed out.

Arilyn pursed her lips. “But everyone could use some counseling. What is she looking for, Kate?”

This was where it got delicate. Kate steepled her fingers and stared at her friends. “She was the most thorough client I’ve ever met with. Knows everything she wants, everything she doesn’t, and is so specific I thought we’d never be able to match her. I used that new computer profiling system you built, A, and the craziest thing happened. I got a full match.”

Kennedy leaned forward. “Full? You mean, one hundred percent?”

The room grew quiet. The system of matching people with the computer was a delicate balance of science, gut instincts, and social networking. A top-rated match was 80 percent, and they already had three marriages from the statistic. But this time it was different.

Arilyn’s face lit up. “That’s wonderful. We found her perfect match. Who is he?”

Kate tapped a key and pointed to the screen.

Arilyn and Kennedy gasped in unison.

“Full name: Ryan Dylan McCray,” Kate announced. “Preferred to be known as, and called, Dylan.”

Arilyn looked pale. “There must be a bug. That’s impossible.”

Kennedy let out a humorless laugh. “Arilyn’s right. Dylan’s been with us for over two years now. He’s had twelve mixers, five socials, thirty-two dates, and multiple sessions of counseling. He’s a Peter Pan billionaire playboy who says he wants a wife, but calls us within twenty-four hours of the first date and tells us there’s no chemistry. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Kate motioned again to the screen. “I know! I checked it numerous times, pulled their files, and manually went over each point. Their personalities are completely contradictory, yet the computer assigns them a perfect match.”

Arilyn shivered. “Maybe there’s something bigger going on here. The universe is trying to tell us something.”

Kennedy walked over to the screen, dropped into the chair near the desk, and began studying the charts and data. “I don’t trust the universe, I trust Kate. Why don’t you bring them both to the office, lay your hands on them, and confirm whether they’re a match?”

Kate groaned. Her ability she termed the “touch” had been passed from generation to generation. She was able to sense an immediate electrical connection between two soul mates. It had been more of a curse in her endless dating years, until she touched Slade Montgomery, a client of Kinnections and her total opposite, and realized they were meant to be together. “Ken, I told you we don’t run our business like that. I’m not going to touch every couple and try to match people that way. We rely on our all assets here—we agreed on that point when we opened.”

Arilyn chimed in. “She’s right. No using Kate for a shortcut. I say we set them both up on a date. They have nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work, we know there’s a glitch in the system and I’ll rework it. If they fall for each other, it’s a win-win.”

Kennedy scrolled through the numerous pages and finally leaned back in surrender. “Agreed. I’ve never seen this before. It’s almost by being completely opposite they’re a perfect match. Bizarre.”

“I know. They both attended Cornell the same years, too. Think they know each other?”

Kennedy seemed to ponder the information. “Could be. This gets more and more mysterious, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. My instincts say to go ahead and schedule the date but not give them much information. They both tend to make assumptions early on, and I think meeting blind would be better. No full names or background details. I think they both trust me enough to take the leap.”

Her friends both agreed and Kate relaxed. “Good, that was what I figured, but I wanted to check with you both first. I was thinking of setting them up this weekend. Ice-skating in Rinker’s Park. It’s romantic around the holidays.”

“I love ice-skating,” Arilyn said dreamily. “It forces couples to be intimate in a natural way.”

“Like yoga?” Kennedy quipped.

Arilyn shot her a glare. “Don’t knock it till you try it, Ken. I’ve reached levels you never even heard of. In and out of the studio.” She paused. “And the bedroom.”

Kennedy laughed. “I know a challenge when I hear one.” She slid off her chair and headed for the door. “Maybe I’ll have Nate study Tantric sex and give me a full demonstration. The man is a walking fountain of knowledge.” Her grin turned wicked. “In and out of the bedroom.”

Kate shook her head as her friend blew them kisses and disappeared. Arilyn fought a grin and got up. “Let me know if you need any help with this one.”

“Thanks. Hey, A, when you counseled Dylan, did you find any huge issues I should know about?”

Arilyn looked thoughtful. “No. Weird, because usually billionaire playboys have issues and angst galore. Dylan is charming, funny, and smart. But he seems to be looking for something I can’t pinpoint. Has a strong family background and seems like he’d make a great husband or father. I just don’t know what’s holding him back.”

Kate nodded. “Okay, thanks. Girls’ night Friday at Mugs?”

“Absolutely.”

She watched Arilyn retreat and swiveled back her computer screen. She’d set up the date and hope for the best. Her instincts hummed, as if something big was about to happen. Unfortunately, it could be a premonition of either great circumstance or complete disaster.

Kate prayed for the former and reached for her phone.

chapter 2

Riley Fox was late.

She despised tardiness.

Trying not to freak out and get all OCD before she went on her first official matchmaking date, she dragged in a breath for calm, and methodically clicked down her list of items to take. Purse. iPhone. Charger. Water. Check, check, check, check.

The snow was steadily falling so she tugged on her leather gloves, buttoned her coat to the neck, and locked the door. Her sleek silver Infiniti was already warmed, and she sighed when her rear slid into the heated seat. Hmm, she knew the general direction, but never made the trek up the mountain. Better get Google Maps ready. The GPS in the car sucked and usually gave her the wrong directions. She clicked on the app, tapped in the address, and buckled her seat belt. Easing the car onto the snow-covered road, Riley headed for her ice-skating date.

Deciding to forgo music for her thoughts, she ignored the slight twinge of nerves in her stomach and wondered if she’d been crazy to agree to this. Riley expected photos, full name, date of birth, social security number, and a checklist of traits her date copped to. Instead, Kate informed her it was a total blind encounter. Meaning she knew his first name was Ryan, he would meet her at exactly 7 p.m. by the gate of Rinker’s Park, and he was safe, sane, and cute.

Kate refused to give her anything else.

Normally, that would challenge Riley’s competitive instincts to shine and compel Kate to give her more information, but Arilyn backed Kate up by gently reminding her of her inability to take risks in her love life, and how going in without any prior information would open her mind.

Finally, she agreed. But if the man exhibited any violations of her rules she was outta there.

Riley drove through Verily, relaxing slightly as the cheerful lights and festive atmosphere on a cold December night made her feel alive. She’d fallen in love with the upstate river town’s artsy appeal and quiet demeanor. Working in Manhattan was amazing—there wasn’t a city in the world as vibrant and fast paced, and she thrived on a career level. But personally, she gravitated toward a quirky, calmer type of atmosphere, where she could sip a coffee, window-shop, talk to her neighbors, and pretend she wasn’t living for sales reports, auctions, and networking.

Pathetic.

Normally, she wouldn’t have cared. Her drive for achievement was something she now lived with and never questioned. Valedictorian in college, a coveted internship in Manhattan at graduation, and years of learning from the best in the business. Finally, she’d been ready to take the leap to create her own publishing business focused on women.

Everyone called her crazy. Laughed. Refused to take her seriously.

Now that same line of rotten men lined up to kiss her ass.

Score.

Riley held back a giggle and took the next turn slow. Her rear wheels slid, adjusted, and pushed on. Damn, this was gonna be a bitch of a snowstorm. The initial reports had called for a dusting, but already huge flakes hit her windshield in kamikaze form, and the faint sound of tinkling ice warned her of the road conditions.

Crap. She was still fifteen minutes late.

Knowing her car could handle it, she calmly pressed the accelerator to make up for some time, keeping her senses sharp to the surroundings around her. She was an excellent driver and had never gotten into an accident. She drove like she did everything else in her life: with a firm capability and a goal toward one thing.

Success.

Men said she had issues. Who didn’t? She’d plunged ahead, and except for the occasional sexual affair she carefully plotted out to meet her bodily needs, she never felt lonely. Until recently. Stupid female clock screwed everything up. She was going along quite happily when she’d caught sight of a pregnant woman stroking her belly.

She’d stopped in the middle of a crowded street. The hit of emotion drained her breath and an ache in her heart made her want to wail like a toddler. From that moment, everything changed. Riley looked at couples around her, baby strollers, flashing diamond rings, and she wanted. Wanted with her heart, soul, and gut, like she’d never wanted anything before.

She’d called Kate and decided to do something about it.

Work had been the element to drive her forward, but now she was ready to attack her personal life. Finally at the stage she always dreamed to be in her career, she realized lately she was lonely. An empty ache pulsed in her gut. She craved cooking in her gourmet kitchen for someone other than herself. Her three-hundred-count Egyptian cotton sheets were cold with no one to snuggle with. Wasn’t it time she finally focused on finding love? Wasn’t it finally her turn?

Her past dates had been bitterly disappointing. Always lacking in certain qualities, exhibiting characteristics she refused to bend on. Too lazy, or arrogant, or needy. Not father material. Not husband material. Lacking character or humor or intelligence.