by Maggie Brown
Studying the past hasn’t prepared Daisy Parker—anthropologist-turned-matchmaker—for her latest client. Finding Lindsey Jamieson-Ford a life partner isn’t exactly a simple exercise. Not only hasn’t Lindsey dated for years, the prickly reclusive scientist relates better with her robots than with people.
Lindsey has no idea what matchmaking involves when she hires Daisy. She’s never met anyone quite like the bubbly matchmaker and doesn’t know how she’s going to survive the infuriating woman. Now her life has lurched onto a roller coaster that just won’t damn well stop.
Guiding Lindsey through the courtship process is a challenge. Before the reticent scientist can move forward, Daisy has to teach her to leave the past behind. But another problem soon enters into the mix…How can Daisy stay detached when her body seems to be answering Lindsey’s mating call?
Flowers—walks in the moonlight—chocolates.
Romance, in Daisy Parker’s opinion, was essential in every relationship. While passion fuelled love, romance sustained it. And like fine wine, true love became better as it aged.
Yesterday’s wedding had been the proof of the program, a real success story for their agency. Still revelling in her triumph, she entered the office with a little skip, brandishing the bouquet.
“You didn’t?” Allison Marsden said with a chuckle.
“Yep, caught it fair and square.”
“I presume they tied the knot without any hiccups,” Allison asked as she pushed over the box of chocolates.
“All done and dusted. Another satisfied customer,” replied Daisy contentedly, plucking a chocolate out of the pack. Lindt truffles were her favourites. “The ceremony was beautiful. The bride was gorgeous, and the groom looked like he couldn’t believe his luck.”
“So he should. This was one of your greatest achievements.”
“You’re not wrong.” Daisy chewed happily, remembering the work she’d put into getting them together. It had seemed an impossible task at first to match her client with the woman of his dreams, for although he was kind and considerate he was hardly an oil painting. The bride on the other hand, was vivacious and quite stunning. Daisy had known all along that they were suited, maybe an odd match for some but well-fitted in her book. Their genes merged perfectly. It was simply a matter of giving them the opportunity to get to know each other.
“This will make you smile a great deal wider,” said Allison as she handed her a folder. “We’ve hit pay dirt.”
“Really? It’s someone important?”
“Very. We’ve moved into the big time.”
“O-kayyy…you’ve got me curious,” said Daisy. She resisted the urge to peek. Still on a high, she wanted to savour the moment. “I’ll read this while you’re at the coffee shop and we’ll discuss it when you get back.”
She fondly watched her office manager disappear. Since the business was running so smoothly, she’d offered her a partnership six months ago. The success of the venture was as much due to Allison’s hard work as hers. Three years ago, Daisy had left university with a master’s degree in anthropology, keen to launch into her working career. What to do, though, had proved a problem. Tired of the tedious world of academia, a career in research or teaching hadn’t appealed, thus narrowing her options. But one thing she had known—it was time to start earning some real money. She was sick of trying to stretch the budget.
Over the Christmas break, she’d mulled over the dilemma. Then during a night out with friends on New Year’s Eve, she was idly watching people flirt when the idea struck. Human mating customs were so haphazard, much like a lucky dip. Singles flocked to bars to meet that someone special—God knows how many times she’d done that herself—but alcohol, while it stoked the libido, did little for true love. Only about half of those who left together would go on a date—the rest would go home, maybe have sex, and then move on. Few were likely to partner-up for life.
Online dating services had a better average, though were hit-and-miss to a degree: people could cheat the system with false information and airbrushed photographs. But what if, she reasoned, the guesswork could be taken out of the equation? Real matchmaking should go further, be more target-specific. The process should have at least a seventy to eighty percent chance of success within a year, with the likelihood that she could find everyone’s perfect match eventually. To achieve this, a hands-on service could be offered that included tuition as well as a personalized introduction.
And who better qualified to do this than she was, having majored in human behaviour and sexual attraction of the species. It was all a matter of science; genetics played a huge role in mate selection. Some seemingly unusual combinations made very successful marriages: the tall mom with the short dad, the Barbie-doll princess with the football fanatic, the basketball star with the science nerd.
Contrary to common belief, romantic love was the most powerful of all human experiences, more compelling than the sex drive. She figured if she went about it scientifically, it shouldn’t be too hard to get couples together. Proper grooming could be taught. Courtship followed distinct patterns that were easy enough to emulate: eye contact, smiling, preening, body movements and so on.
The more she thought about it, the more enthusiastic she became. A week later, she took the plunge, rented office space and advertised for a personal assistant. Her father, Richard, had huffed and puffed about throwing away her education. A woman with a post-graduate degree shouldn’t discard it on a whim to be a common matchmaker. The more he puffed, the deeper she dug her toes in. Her mother, Sheila, had simply laughed, claiming that as an anthropologist she would have more fun working with the living than with the dead.
Daisy had been relieved when her mother gave her support. Her approval meant a great deal. They were the best of friends and although there was twenty-eight years’ difference in their ages, they were sometimes mistaken for sisters. Both a tad under average height, Daisy had inherited her mother’s perky upturned nose, soft fair complexion, and grey-blue eyes. Their chestnut hair was the same vibrant colour, though hers was harder to keep tamed than Sheila’s which naturally sat in soft orderly waves. Daisy had been flattered when someone remarked she looked like Emma Stone, an actor she thought awesome. Though she secretly thought she looked more like an older version of Little Orphan Annie. Curly hair and a sprinkling of freckles didn’t do much for sophistication.
Thankfully, her father eventually gave up his opposition in the face of their combined disapproval and the Marigold Matchmaking Agency was formed. An incurable romantic and movie buff, Daisy thought it only fitting to name her venture after one of her favourite films, The Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Allison had been one of twenty applicants to answer her ad and proved a real find. Her efficiency and financial nous made Daisy’s transition to business proprietor virtually worry-free. They had worked as an effective team over the following three years. As paperwork was a matter of constant annoyance, she left that part in Allison’s capable hands, while dealing with clients was Daisy’s forte. She loved interacting with people.
Once their office was set up, it had been only a matter of a few strategically placed notices on social media and a trickle of people began to appear. It hadn’t taken long to build up a client base. All ages and from a wide range of lifestyles, men and women sought her help: unmarried, divorced, single parents and bereaved. Some had either abandoned the nightclub scene, some were too busy with their career, and others just sick of dud dates. Most had tried Internet dating with little success. But all sought a stable happy relationship.
She gave each her personal attention, which meant as the firm’s popularity grew the demands on her time increased. The Marigold Matchmaking Agency soon achieved a stellar reputation, due partly to their efforts and partly to the fact that they strictly vetted their clients before accepting them. Each applicant had to have a genuine wish to find a life partner. They weren’t a shagging service.
The name on the top of the front page of the folder commanded Daisy’s attention immediately: Lindsey Jamieson-Ford. She swung back in the chair, her mind racing. All righty—Allie hadn’t exaggerated. This was big! But what would the principal of LJF Robotics want with a matchmaker? Anyone so wealthy could have her pick. Curious, she read on. The woman was quite serious, she wanted to get married and was prepared to pay very well for the agency to match her up with a suitable spouse.
The figure she quoted caused Daisy to let out a sharp whistle. It was as much as their agency had earned in the last two months and they weren’t cheap. Their clients mostly came from professional ranks. The letter from Lindsey was terse and to the point. She asked to be their client, proposed what she was prepared to pay and requested a meeting the following Tuesday morning at nine at her home.
Daisy flipped through the data Allison had added. LJF Robotics had been a subsidiary of the giant Engineering and Electronics Corporation owned by her father, Warren Jamieson-Ford, until LJF began to make money in its own right. Then Lindsey went out on her own, making a name for her company by bringing prosthetics into the digital age. It was also rumoured that they were nearly to the production stage of an advanced humanoid robot.
Information about Lindsey herself was thin on the ground. From all accounts, she worked mostly in a laboratory at her home and rarely ventured outside the grounds. She was, to all intents and purposes, a recluse. Daisy reserved her opinion on that one. The woman could be going out in disguise—not all well-known people sought the limelight. A photograph was enclosed in the file, a snapshot of Lindsey with her father at the opening of an engineering plant in January three years ago. She looked pleasant enough but needed to upgrade her wardrobe. Her drab suit screamed dowdy. And who wore long sleeves in summer?
Allison entered with two cups and a box balanced on a tray. “A cappuccino and scrumptious strawberry cheesecake.”
“Good-oh,” said Daisy. She hastily cleared a space on her desk before she looked up with a smile. Allison was not only an efficient administrator, but also a good friend. She was as much a romantic sucker as Daisy, convinced everyone had a soulmate somewhere. A practical woman with a warm loving nature, she was happily raising her two teenage daughters with her husband Noel, in a quiet leafy suburb. Because her attractive mature features radiated competency and trust, Daisy had persuaded her to be the public face of their agency in their advertising promotions.
“What do you think about Lindsey?” asked Daisy, keen to hear her opinion. Allison had a good eye for detail.
“I’ve no idea. There’s very little about her on the Internet. She’s extremely private, no profile on social media. The only new information I managed to dig up, she was involved in a motorbike accident when she was twenty-one. But the extent of her injuries was hushed up.”
“There was one photo in a magazine with a young guy at her twenty-first birthday party. Nothing anywhere since.” Allison gave a shrug and added, “The woman is very good at hiding her private life.”
“Who was he?”
“A law student—Martin James Hickman. His father’s a judge.”
“What happened to him?”
“He moved to London and married over there six years ago. He’s back in Australia, now an associate with his father’s old law firm.”
Daisy idly brushed crumbs off her shirt as she tried to get her head around the information. “She’s in her mid-thirties. Surely she must have had somebody since then.”
“Believe me, I’ve searched. I even rang a solicitor friend who had business dealings with her. Apparently, she doesn’t date.”
“Damn,” muttered Daisy. “I hate going blind into an interview. I don’t even know what type of man she’s attracted to.”
“Maybe she has someone in mind and wants our help to get him.”
“It’ll make it a lot easier if she has. Just so long as they’re compatible.”
“Are you going to her place as she requested?”
“I guess I’ll have to if I want the business.” Daisy was normally strict about meeting at private residences, a lesson she’d learned the hard way early in the piece. A middle-aged, obnoxious client had become obsessed with her and cornered her in his lounge with a passionate marriage proposal. It had taken her over an hour of cajoling to persuade him to let her out of the house. Even though she had laughed it off, the stress of the experience had lingered for months. She vowed never to put herself into that position again. They had a strict policy now that all appointments were to be held at her office.
“I agree,” said Allison. “For the money she’s offering, we should waive that policy. I’ve received three more applications this week. What do you want done with them?”
“Put them on hold until I meet with Lindsey. We’ll know then how much time I’ll need to spend with her.”
“Okay,” Allison replied, then continued in a motherly tone. “You know, it’s about time you started to look after your own love life. When was the last time you had a date?”
Daisy gave a shrug. “Jonathon and I went to the Adele concert last week.”
“You went out with the man next door? Are you changing sides?”
“As if. He had tickets to the show, so I said I’d go with him.”
Allison eyed her thoughtfully. “You can find everyone else a perfect match but not for yourself. What kind of woman do you like, and more to the point, why can’t you get her? You’re an expert at it.”
“I’ve backed myself into a corner,” said Daisy with a scowl. “As you know, I needed to keep my professional life separate at first, which meant I had to fly under the radar for the first two years after setting up the agency. Casual dates only. It could have affected the business…I couldn’t take the risk. Now Marigold is big enough not to have to pander to bigots, my workload is the problem. I can’t get the hours or motivation to go out much. I haven’t been out on a proper date for months. By the time I finish the day, I only want to curl up on the lounge and chill out.”
“Maybe we should take on fewer clients. The agency is doing extremely well financially.”
“Perhaps we should. We both need more time for our own lives. I know your family will appreciate it.”
“They would, but you’re the one who needs a social life.” Allison looked at her curiously. “Where exactly do you girls go to meet someone?”
“We do most of our networking with parties and dinners. There are a couple of private clubs for women in town with many lesbian members. Then there are always chat lines, cocktail bars, and pubs.”
“I find it hard to believe that you’ve never met anyone you were really keen on. You’re so bright and outgoing.”
“I played the field at uni,” Daisy answered sheepishly. “Although I knew which side of the fence I sat on, I even dated a couple of guys. I thought for curious people that it was a rite of passage in their sexuality. For some past societies, it was normal, even expected, to explore both sides. It wasn’t until I was twenty-two that everything fell firmly into place. I coasted along dating, partying, never getting involved. It was all a bit of a game. Then suddenly I got what the fuss was all about.”
“Bridget happened. She was a lecturer in women’s studies and so hot she sizzled. As soon as I clapped eyes on her, whistles blew and fireworks popped. My libido completely went off the charts. I was a crushing mess.”
Allison chuckled. “I’d liked to have seen that. What happened to her? Obviously, she’s not still around.”
“She was a player. After we indulged thoroughly in the joys of the…um…flesh, in six weeks she moved on to the next conquest.” When she caught Allison’s look of sympathy, Daisy grinned. “I wasn’t hurt about it. We weren’t suited at all, in fact if she hadn’t broken it off I would have. She was an egotistical prima donna who was actually a bit of a dumb ass about sexual attraction of the species. She couldn’t distinguish between the physiological and the emotional, but she did teach me a thing or two about my body.”
“Really, Daisy, you’re so analytical when it comes to this stuff.”
“Years of study. I’m mature enough now not to go overboard with my emotions.”
“One day you’ll meet someone, and you won’t know what’s hit you.”
“Ha! Not likely.”
“We’ll see,” said Allison.
“Turn around…turn around.”
Daisy snapped off the irritating Siri voice, ready to scream. The GPS had her running around in circles, and if she didn’t find the turnoff soon, she’d be late. Not a good start, for from the precise tone of the letter, Lindsey Jamieson-Ford clearly expected punctuality at their first meeting. Frantically, she swept her eyes up and down the road. Not a damn signpost in sight. Suddenly she remembered the mud-map attached to the letter that she’d arbitrarily dismissed as old-fashioned. Quickly she dug it out from the bottom of her briefcase. After a quick scan, she realized she’d come too far. Just before the T-junction on the way back, she found the unmarked gravel track tucked away between a stand of trees.
Thirty metres in, she brought her red Nissan to a halt in front of a steel gate. Before she punched in the passcode, Daisy ran her eyes over the elaborate surveillance setup attached to the left column. Nobody would be getting in here without permission. Once inside the estate, she drove along an avenue of pines until a two-storey house came into view. When she gazed upwards through the windscreen to take it all in, a slice of sunlight shimmered off something hovering above the tree line.
She shaded her eyes, squinting through the glass. Barely definable against the backdrop of the cloudless sky, a small pale-blue balloon winked into focus. She recognized what it was immediately. A cinematographer client had given her a personalized tour of a film studio, explaining in detail the tools of his trade. The balloon was a Halo, the latest technology in the generation of drones used for taking aerial shots. Powered by helium rather than a motor, it was impossible to detect by sound.
Skittish that someone was recording her every move, she eased the car to a stop in the stone-paved courtyard. When she stepped out, a blast of crisp spring air sent goose bumps prickling across her skin, though they were not solely from the cold. The house was enough to make her shiver. Brooding and formidable, it looked more like a gothic fortress than a family home. Straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe novel. The front door was solid steel, the windows were cased with heavy screening and the outside walls a hard-grey slate. Ivy crawled across the building like thousands of waxy green tentacles.
After a twist to ease her bunched shoulder muscles, Daisy climbed the three steps to the front porch. She peered at the door uneasily. A huge brass dragon’s head was attached with the doorbell embedded in its eye. When she pressed it, the camera above immediately swivelled to focus on her. Wow, talk about paranoid. She was tempted to give it a wave but desisted—Ms Jamieson-Ford probably didn’t have a sense of humour. A moment later, the door swung ajar with a creak.
A short matronly woman in a floury apron stood on the threshold, gazing at her in surprise. “Can I help you?” she asked.
Daisy let out a relieved sigh. The woman looked pleasant and unremarkable. “Hi. Daisy Parker to see Ms Jamieson-Ford.”
“Is she expecting you?”
Daisy rocked back on her heels. “This is Tuesday, isn’t it?”
“Then I have an appointment at nine.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t told to expect you. Come along then. She’s in her office.”
Daisy trotted along behind her up the hallway, at a loss to understand why Lindsey hadn’t mentioned her appointment to her staff. Then all thoughts of her mysterious client disappeared as she passed an open doorway. She stared, fascinated. It was another world: the enormous room was like something out of a sci-fi movie. The whole impression was of space, with lounge chairs perched on tubular legs, oddly shaped lamps hanging from the ceiling and an entertainment unit that could have been on the deck of the Starship Enterprise.
On the far wall were images of spectacular land and seascapes, 3D holograms that slowly rolled over continuously like desktop images on a computer. To the side, a large curved ultramodern staircase wound up to the next floor. But most fascinating were the robots: one, humanoid in shape and size, was dusting the bookcase, while two small silver metal dogs zipped in and out of the furniture.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t dawdle for a proper inspection for the woman who answered the door was waving impatiently for her to follow. “That’s a private room. If I had known you were coming I would have shut the door. Come along. If your meeting’s at nine, then you’d better hurry. You’re already late and Ms Jamieson-Ford is very strict about time.”
Daisy glanced at her watch. 9:06. For shit sake! Six minutes late and the help was in a tizz. Lindsey must be a time freak, which just narrowed down the eligibility field by half. Not many men wanted to be held to strict timetables. Women were mostly pliant, but from her experience males usually liked to be the boss, which definitely included when they did things.
There was no time for further speculation, for the door swung open and she was ushered into the room. Daisy sniffed appreciatively as she stepped inside. The air was tinged with the scents of leather and polish, which immediately recalled familiar images of cosy nooks in academic libraries.
This room was entirely different from the lounge she had just passed. While it was evident that most of the ground floor had been gutted and redesigned, the study had been left in what she presumed was its original state. It was a large room, the walls polished wood, with a bookcase filled with thick hardcover books—she guessed technical—set against one side. A vintage burgundy velvet armchair and love seat sat with a small coffee table on the other side. Technical drawings were tacked to a freestanding display board against the wall.
In front of an ornately carved arched back window, a solid mahogany desk dominated the room. Everything was perfectly in place on the top: paper, files, phone, and silver laptop. A gold-leafed desk set was impeccably aligned, while three pens and six graphite pencils marched in a straight row across the polished wood.
The woman in the high-backed leather chair behind the desk looked imposing, with a long unsmiling face, a thin straight aristocratic nose, and penetrating sharp eyes. Her brown hair was tied back in a tight bun, while a pair of thick black glasses sat on the end of her nose. Her dark grey jacket was spread open to reveal a plain white shirt buttoned up to the neck. Daisy went immediately into marriage mode—there was a bit to do here if she wanted to snag her a husband.
Lindsey’s expression was neither welcoming nor discouraging, though Daisy knew she was being sized up. She waited for her host to make the first move. Finally, Lindsey pointed to the seat and said in a low polished accent, “Please take a seat, Ms Parker.” Then with a smile, she turned to the small woman in the apron. “Thank you, Bernie.”
“I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me, Lindsey.”
Daisy rolled her eyes at the emphasis on the word. Geez, did she look like some crazy psycho? She sniggered to herself—or maybe Cruella De Ville, here to pinch those little robot dogs? She waited until the cook disappeared out the door before she thrust her hand over the desk. “Hi, Ms Jamieson-Ford, I’m Daisy Parker.”
It was waved away with an impatient flick. “There’s no need for formalities. Call me Lindsey.” She peered up at the clock on the wall. “You’re late. If we’re going to do business, then I expect you to be on time in the future.”
Daisy blinked. Talk about an obsessive grouch. She’d have to lighten up or nobody would want her. Daisy made a point of studying her vintage Rolex before stating firmly, “Only by seven minutes. Your turnoff was hard to find…you haven’t a sign. But be rest assured I’ll be early in future.” With a cheery smile, she launched into professional mode. “Now let’s get down to business. Is there anything you’d like to know about the Marigold Agency before we begin discussing what you’re looking for in a partner?”
Lindsey formed her fingers into a steeple and raked her eyes up over Daisy’s face to rest on her hair. “Exactly how old are you? I was expecting to deal with someone more mature. What happened to that pleasant-looking woman on the brochure?”
“She’s the agency’s business manager, and for your information I’ll be twenty-nine shortly.”
“That old? You look about twenty.” She gave a shrug. “I guess if you do the job properly, it doesn’t matter what you look like.”
Daisy curbed her temper. She was the boss of this show, not this antisocial woman. “You’re right,” she said briskly, “it doesn’t matter at all because I’ve got the runs on the board to prove it. And lucky me for looking so young. Some people…” she swept her eyes slowly over Lindsey’s face, “some people age far too quickly.”
Lindsey actually smiled—slightly. “Tell me about yourself. I like to know the people with whom I have to deal,” she said.
“We have an excellent reputation for helping clients. I have a master’s degree in anthropology and started the business three years ago.”
“That’s impressive. I imagine your studies were the basis for this venture. Very innovative.”
Daisy couldn’t help feeling a little chuffed. She imagined praise was doled out in very small portions by this woman. She had learned from the beginning that clients didn’t really care about her education, she was simply a matchmaker to them. It did give her ego a boost to have her academic achievements acknowledged. “I believe finding a mate can be achieved scientifically if a man and a woman are genetically suited.”
“That’s interesting. It’s something I’d like to talk to you about in depth later. It would help in programming artificial intelligence. It never really entered my head to work with an anthropologist, but it makes sense,” said Lindsey with a nod. “How do you start the process of matchmaking? I imagine you just can’t pluck two people off the street and match them up.”
“I’ve found that usually where there is attraction, there is a basis for compatibility.”
“But not in all cases.”
“No, not all,” replied Daisy. “Lust is sometimes mistaken for something deeper, which is why I urge my clients to go through a courtship process.”
“A bit old-fashioned isn’t it. What about those who just want a permanent sex partner?”
“I’ve nothing against anyone living that way, in fact if that’s what you want I say go for it. Is that what this is all about, Lindsey?”
Something flashed in her eyes—hurt, or anger or maybe it was fear—Daisy couldn’t make it out, but whatever it was, it turned the eyes into sparkling pools of swirling colour. Daisy stared mesmerized. The eyes were extraordinary. The irises were a deep violet, shot through with flecks of gold and pale pink like facets of an amethyst. There was no doubt they were Lindsey’s best feature.
Under the scrutiny, Lindsey shuffled in her seat. “Of course it’s not the reason I’m employing you. Sex is a commodity you can buy like anything else in the world. I want a loving spouse, someone who cares about me. I thought I explained that in my letter.”
Something about how she said those words about sex being a commodity and the way she was fidgeting with the paper clip on the desk, sent whistles through Daisy’s brain. Somewhere in the past, Lindsey had paid for sex. She put it out of her mind—it was none of her business. “I know you did, but I have to ask all my prospective clients that question. It reinforces the end objective…to find true love. Now the first thing is to fill out a detailed profile.” She took a folder out of her bag and handed it across. “I want you to write it by hand. The computer lacks the deep personal touch. It will take you some time, so I need you to do it when you’re alone and I’ll collect it next time we meet.”
“It’s very comprehensive, but if there are any things you’re uncomfortable with I want you to leave them out. This isn’t an exercise in Chinese water torture. It will help me understand who you are and what you expect from a relationship. It’s amazing if you write it down how things become clearer. For example, some people want a partner at home keeping the household running, while others might love someone to share their workload. It’s an individual thing that most couples sort out through compromise.”
Daisy watched the expressions flicker over Lindsey’s face as she thought it over. She had an interesting face, not pretty but intriguing. With a modern haircut, subtle makeup and more stylish clothes, she could look far less severe. As there was no question of money, it wouldn’t be necessary to have off-the-rack clothes. An upmarket designer could do wonders for her. She’d have prospective husbands lined up to meet her. “So, do we go ahead?” she asked.
“Good,” said Daisy with a satisfied hum. With access to unlimited funds, this was going to be a cinch. An academic type would suit her down to the ground, and they were as easy as pie to handle. So unworldly. “We can do a bit of the groundwork today. Firstly, give me the profile of the man you think would be your perfect match.”
The paper clip bent sharply in Lindsey’s fingers as she averted her eyes. “I want a wife, not a husband.”