She tried to gauge his mood. “I’m so sorry about lunch,” she told him.

Zach shrugged as he flipped through the mail. “It was fine.”

“I should’ve checked my calendar. Did the assistant reach you?”

“Actually she joined me.”

“You had lunch with your secretary?” Rosie wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that.

“She’s not my secretary, she’s my assistant,” he explained, his back to her. “I left the office early because I wanted to get a table by the window. When Janice called with the news, I said it was a shame to let that table go. I was only joking when I suggested she come over since you couldn’t, but she took me up on it.”

“Oh.” Rosie was silent for a moment. “Did you have a nice lunch?” She’d eaten a candy bar out of a machine.

“It was all right,” he muttered and headed toward the bedroom for a shower, but she noticed he was whistling.

“I can meet you for lunch any day next week,” she called after him.

“Sorry, honey,” he said as he strolled past her. “I’m booked solid.”


Having her nails done every other week was Maryellen’s one luxury. Although beautifully manicured fingernails were an extravagance, she couldn’t make herself give it up. Even more than that small pleasure, though, Maryellen enjoyed her friendship with the “girls” at Get Nailed. They were close to her age and single, but unlike Maryellen they wanted men in their lives.

Every second Wednesday morning, Maryellen listened while they bemoaned their fates. She was often amused by the crazy schemes they devised for meeting men. Frankly, she couldn’t understand why Rachel, her nail tech, hadn’t found a decent man. Maryellen considered her attractive and savvy.

The third Wednesday in October, Maryellen arrived for her appointment. Rachel was, as usual, ready for her. As soon as Maryellen was seated, Rachel doused a cotton swab in nail polish remover and reached for her hand.

“How’s it going?” Rachel asked.

“Great, how about you? Meet anyone last weekend?”

“I wish,” Rachel returned with a long sigh. “I’m not getting any younger.”

Maryellen knew that Rachel had made it her goal to find a husband by age thirty, and her birthday was only a few months away.

“I read something interesting this week,” Maryellen told her. “It’s about a town in Ireland named Lisdoonvarna. Every September and the first week of October, eligible men come to town looking for wives. Apparently it’s a tradition that’s been going on for years.”

“This is a joke, right?” Terri asked from across the room.

“No, I swear to you this is real.”

“Where do these women come from?” Rachel asked.

“All over the world. According to the article, a woman flew all the way from Australia to find a husband—and she did.”

“I can’t afford to go to Ireland,” Rachel muttered.

“No, but maybe we could hold our own festival,” Terri suggested.

“You could do that,” Maryellen said, wanting to encourage the other women. She didn’t want to get involved herself, but she did hope the crew of Get Nailed would do something with the idea.

“A Marriage Fest?” Terri’s voice picked up speed with her excitement.

“Yeah, but who’d come?” Rachel asked. “I can see it now. We’d make headlines ’cause we’re throwing a party in order to meet potential husbands, and not one man would show up.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Terri said with a discouraged sigh.

“If I want to get out of a relationship, all I have to do is mention the word marriage and the man drops me like a hot potato.” Rachel frowned as she concentrated on Maryellen’s chipped thumbnail.

“You’re right about that,” Jane, another tech, added. “Men in America have got it too good.” There was a chorus of agreement.

“I’ve given up on Prince Charming. I’d be happy to meet the guy who grooms his horse,” Rachel said.

Maryellen smiled, and so did petite, blond Jane.

“Actually, forget about the guy grooming the horse,” Rachel went on, “I’d settle for a man who knows how to change the oil in my car.”

“I dated a guy like that once,” Terri told her. “Larry’s head was constantly under the hood of a car. He was far more interested in listening to an engine purr than me. It’s too bad, because he was basically a nice guy.”

“Why’d you break up?”

“He got grease on my white silk blouse.”

“You broke up with a great guy because he ruined your blouse?”

Terri nodded. “What can I say? That blouse cost me seventy bucks, and Larry didn’t seem to think it was any big deal. The way I figure it, if a guy can’t appreciate a seventy-dollar blouse, then I don’t want anything to do with him.”

“I’d like to meet a man who has his head screwed on straight when it comes to money,” Jane said. “Everyone I’ve ever dated expects me to pick up the tab because they’re constantly broke.”

“I met this rich guy once, but he was dead boring,” Jeannie said, leaping into the conversation. “We dated for three months and I broke up with him because I had more fun washing my hair.”

“I’ll take a boring guy over a user any day of the week,” Jane informed her.

“What about you, Terri?” Maryellen asked. Terri, who dressed in bold, bright colors, was tall and big-boned, with soulful dark eyes. “What kind of man interests you?”

“I want a man who appreciates good food and isn’t afraid of a woman who likes to eat,” she said without hesitating. “I’m sick of men who want skinny women. I want a man to take me to a fancy restaurant and ask me to order an appetizer and suggest I save room for dessert. Better yet, I’d like a man who did the cooking himself.” She glanced around the shop. “Does anyone know someone like that?”

A sudden silence cut off the lively conversation. “Well, actually, I do know someone who cooks,” Maryellen said slowly, thinking of Jon Bowman. “Jon’s a chef at a truly wonderful restaurant.”

“Why’d you break up with him?” Rachel asked.

“We’ve never, uh, actually dated.” Nor would they, despite her curiosity. Maryellen loved Jon’s work and he intrigued her as a person, but her interest in him wasn’t romantic. No men in her life, no matter how attractive: that was her Number One rule. “I’d be willing to introduce you, Terri, if you wanted.”

“You would?” The other woman’s voice lifted with enthusiasm.

“So what do we do next?” Rachel asked, glancing around the shop. “It looks like we’ve all dated a man who meets someone else’s criteria, which is great but isn’t helping any of us right now.”

“We could throw a party,” Jeannie said. “Sort of drag out our discards for the others to sort through.”

“A rummage sale of old lovers,” Terri suggested. Her client laughed, and the other women at the shop joined in.

“I’ll wear my black blouse,” Rachel said decisively. “I don’t care if Larry ruins that.” Then, looking at Maryellen, she added in a whisper, “I can’t afford to be picky. My car’s in sad shape.”

Jane reached for the calendar. “We could make it a Halloween party,” she announced. “What do you think?”

The immediate consensus was that a Halloween party was a good idea.

“That’ll give us a little more than two weeks to come up with some fun ideas. Let’s get this organized.”


“You bet.”

“Count me in.”

Maryellen wasn’t sure how it happened, but despite her original reluctance, she soon found herself involved.

“How are we going to get the guys to come?” Jane, the most practical of the group, asked. “I don’t think Floyd would be interested in dating me again.”

“Larry could be married for all I know.”

“Ask,” Maryellen said. “And you need to be up-front with them. Explain to the guy that you’re bringing him to the party as your guest, but he’ll be meeting other women once he gets there.”

“I’ll let Larry know that someone’s dying to meet him,” Terri said.

“Perfect!” Rachel sounded absolutely delighted.

When Maryellen left Get Nailed, her head was spinning. She really hadn’t meant to become part of this scheme, although she’d started the conversation.

She didn’t know how the others planned to handle this, but she certainly wasn’t going to wait for the last minute to mention the party to Jon. When Terri had talked about wanting to meet a man who enjoyed food, he’d come instantly to mind. In retrospect, Maryellen regretted mentioning his name. She didn’t know what had prompted her. It was probably because he’d been in her thoughts ever since their last meeting. This latest group of photographs was some of his best work to date, and she’d been almost sorry they’d sold so quickly.

Considering that she’d suggested the direct approach to the others, she felt obliged to follow her own advice. She waited a week, and then dialed the phone number listed in her Rolodex.

Jon answered on the second ring. “Hello.”

“Jon, hello, this is Maryellen Sherman.” She hesitated, waiting for some kind of acknowledgment. “The manager of HarborStreetArtGallery,” she added.

“Yes, I know.”

She’d swear he sounded amused, which only served to fluster her more.

“I’ve been invited to a Halloween party,” she said, rushing to explain the reason for her call. “Everyone’s supposed to come with a date—well, not a date exactly. We’ve been asked to bring someone, a man, to introduce to someone else. I have this friend who’s really lovely and she likes to eat.” She grimaced, thinking that sounded kind of dumb, but plunged on anyway. “She enjoys her food and well, her biggest wish is to meet a man who likes to cook and naturally, I thought of you.” She realized she was rambling and stopped abruptly.

There was no response.

“Would you be interested in attending the party?” she finally asked. “You’d be under no obligation.” She wanted that understood. “Basically, you’d be doing me a favor.”

“By meeting this friend of yours.”


“The one who enjoys a good meal.”

“Yes. Her name’s Terri, and she’s a lot of fun. I think you’d like her.”

“You’d be there?”

Maryellen sighed. “Yes, of course. I’d introduce you to Terri. So—what do you think?”

“Can I let you know later?” he asked after another long pause.

“Of course.” She figured she should feel encouraged that he hadn’t rejected her outright.