Chapter One: Guess Lorena Has to Go to Ìovoria Now
THE WESTMORELAND OBSERVER
ROWDY ROSAMUND SEDUCES COUPLE IN BRUSSELS Princess Rosamund put the moves on a young Belgian couple in an outdoor cafe in Brussels. They awaited her arrival at a small corner table and stayed with her for over an hour of flirtatious conversation. All three left together, arm in arm, and checked into a nearby hotel.
LOCAL MATCHMAKER GOES INTERNATIONAL Westmoreland County, VA, local Lorena García Fernández traveled to Ìovoria to help a viscount find true love through her matchmaking company Love, Lorena. She introduced Viscount Teague Duglass to his new viscountess, Lady Ailsa Brown, at a dressage event in honor of the crown prince. The two were married in a private ceremony at their estate. Love, Lorena can be contacted in person at the headquarters in Montross, VA; by phone at (888) 279-LOVE; and online at lovelorenamatchmaking.com.
In her rural Virginia office, Lorena García Fernández bypassed the usual salacious story about the Ìovorian princess and snipped out the article about her business trip. The blades of her scissors slid through the newspaper in long, clean lines, perfectly even on every side. Although she sometimes wondered why Westmoreland County still used physical newspapers, she had to admit it was handy now.
She set the article in its frame and looked at the front door to see if her second-in-command had arrived. No sign of her, but then again, it wasn’t even seven o’clock yet. Cool early-morning sunlight streamed through the windows and glass door. Lorena straightened the clipping, pressed the back of the frame into place, and double-checked how it looked from the front. Flawless. She rose from her chair and hung the article on the wall between two testimonials, neat and level.
Her ginger cat, Amado, rubbed against her ankles before hopping onto the desk, his tail twitching impishly. He wove between two photos of Lorena in Ìovoria—one selfie set in rolling green hills, one in the ancient capital city—and leapt onto the windowsill, where he settled to chirp at a bird.
The lock clicked, and the bell over the front door jingled. In walked Lorena’s best friend and vice president, Natascha Barclave, juggling her purse and several binders overflowing with papers. Her mouse-brown curls were pulled back in a french braid but already frizzing around the edges of her freckled face. She reached out with one full hand and flipped the CLOSED sign to OPEN with her pinkie finger. “I’m here, I’m here. And it may not look like it, but I’m fully prepared for the Johnson intake interview at ten.”
“Are those my Wallace-Díaz notes?” Lorena took the binders and set them safely on the welcome desk. “What the hell did you do to them?”
“Chill. Everything’s still in there. It’s just a little, um, messier.” Natascha dropped her purse onto the desk chair. They did their quick secret handshake and bumped fists before getting back to business. “I took Casey Bright home, too, and ran the numbers. We should set her up with Allie Masterson. They were a 90 percent match in the algorithm, and I think they’d get along well.”
Lorena flipped through the Bright binder and found the printout of the results. Promising indeed. “Okay, let’s talk first-date options after my eight o’clock review with Eve Ebron.”
Her work cell rang atop her desk. Lorena snatched up the phone and pressed it to her ear. “Thank you for calling Love, Lorena. This is Lorena. How can I help you?”
“Good morning, love!” The two familiar, Ìovorian-brogued voices sounded far away: Teague and Ailsa Duglass on speakerphone. The two thirtysomething aristocrats talked over each other before Ailsa shushed Teague and asked Lorena, “How’s your first day back in the office? Is the jet lag bad?”
“Not too bad, but I will say I already miss Ìovoria.” She leaned against the desk. “How are y’all?”
“Enjoying the honeymoon you planned for us.” Teague’s smile shone through his voice.
“Thank you again for everything you did, bringing us together,” Ailsa said. “It was all straight out of a fairy tale. I never thought I had a perfect match, but you found him.” “Think you’ll find that someone special of your own soon?” Teague asked.
Lorena’s throat closed, but she tossed out a blasé “Nah. My to-do list is long enough without adding that to it.” As if she couldn’t be bothered, as if she’d hardly considered it at all. As if her own parents’ brutal divorce hadn’t convinced her long ago that love wasn’t in the cards for her. Not now, not ever.
“Not to worry, we won’t hold you up. You’ve plenty of clients to help, I’m sure.” Ailsa paused meaningfully. “Just wanted to let you know that a little something special is coming your way soon.”
A thank-you card, maybe? If Lorena was lucky, it would have a hefty tip in it. Running an international matchmaking company wasn’t cheap. “You didn’t have to do that. Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” Ailsa corrected her. “I’ve never been happier in my life. You have a gift, you know?”
Lorena’s heart warmed. Nothing felt as good as a satisfied customer. The bell over the door jangled, and her father strolled in, his nose wrinkling. The warmth dissipated. Swallowing hard, Lorena thanked the Duglasses again and let them go before waving her dad over. She took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Morning, Papá.”
José Luís García Ruíz scoffed. “Did you hear what your mother said about me this time?”
She couldn’t hold the smile for this nonsense. For two people who refused to speak to each other, he and Graciela Fernández Montilla spent a lot of time talking about each other, and somehow Lorena always ended up in the middle. She sighed. “I’m at work. Did you need something?”
He snorted. “Right, work. Real hard stuff.”
Lorena closed her eyes, regretting everything.
“Tell them, ‘Go socialize like the rest of us normal people, instead of needing a business to find you a date.’ Boom. I just did your job for you. Come on; let’s go out for breakfast.” He laughed.
She didn’t. “It’s not about finding a date. It’s about finding your match. I—” “Yeah, yeah, you’ve given me the spiel before. I still think you could be doing more with your life. I worked hard so you could have everything, and all you do is sit around and plan dates for other people. What happened to that sales job?” Lorena rolled her jaw. “That was for six months, five years ago, and I hated every second of it.”
José Luís touched her arm. “I’m just looking out for you. I want you to succeed. To be somebody.”
The problem was, she was succeeding. If having a viscount for a client didn’t count as success, what would? Lorena looked to Natascha for support, but her best friend had quietly put in earbuds and started on some paperwork, giving her privacy. “I have an appointment soon. I can’t go out for breakfast.”
“Fine, mija. Be that way. Just like your mother.” He left without an I love you, but Lorena wasn’t expecting one. She had learned a long time ago that her family didn’t put much stock in those words.
She sank into her swivel chair. “Get it together,” she whispered to herself, fisting her hands in her lap. “We have work to do. No time to be a downer.”
As if sensing she needed encouragement, Amado jumped onto the desk and headbutted her shoulder for pets. She rubbed the top of his head, and he purred. She smooched him on the forehead. “What a good boy,” she cooed. “And so handsome. ‘Well, obviously.’” This last bit she said in a deep, regal voice.
Natascha took out her earbuds and did the Amado voice too. “‘I’m the handsomest man in town. I’m glad you realize this.’” She walked over and leaned against the desk. “How’s your dad?”
“Same as ever. Wants me to find a line of work he understands.” Lorena pulled up the company email. Twenty unread messages just since yesterday. “What I wouldn’t give for a ‘hey, you built a business out of nothing, and it’s actually doing well. Good job.’”
Tascha grimaced. “Yeah, that sucks. I’m sorry.”
Lorena skimmed the subject headings.
Looking for love! Do you do house calls? Help!!! Any openings this week? Want to schedule an appointment I need help ASAP ISO love of my life Duglass reference: Call Beathas Cunningham
She blinked. The Duglasses had referred her? She didn’t recognize the name, but hey, a customer was a customer. She clicked on that email first.
Dear Ms. García Fernández, I have an offer of employment for you. After your success with Lord and Lady Duglass, I would like to formally invite you to visit Ìovoria again, this time as an employee of a person of high status. I cannot provide more information through email, as it is not secured. If you’re interested in learning more, please download the secure app SecureLine and call my number at any time through that. I will be happy to provide more information then and answer any questions you may have. Cordially, Beathas Cunningham An Ìovorian phone number was listed under her name.
A person of high status? What did that even mean? Lord, how full of yourself do you have to be that you can’t be named in an email? Not that Lorena was about to pass up a potential client. (Still, she did a quick search on the Internet to make sure the app was legit before she downloaded it.) Then she penned the name and number on a Post-it note and flashed it at Tascha. “Guess who this is?”
“Uh…I’m gonna go out on a limb and say a client.”
“Okay, yeah, but get this. She wanted me to download some secure phone app and call her through that. Like my phone’s not good enough.”
Natascha rolled her eyes. “Yeah, okay. How impressive can they really be?”
“Right? Ridiculous. As if we didn’t just handle a viscount.” Lorena did the math for the current time in Ìovoria. Just past noon. Perfectly reasonable for a return call. “I’m gonna get back to her now, before my eight o’clock. Can you handle any walk-ins?”
Tascha gave a jaunty salute. “Sure thing, boss.”
“You’re the best.”
Lorena pulled out a notepad, lined it up exactly parallel with the edge of the desk, and smoothed her palm over the top page. Biting her lower lip, she dialed Beathas’s number in the secure app. Tascha gave her an excited thumbs-up before returning to the front of the office.
A woman with a cool brogue answered on the first ring. “This is Beathas Cunningham. How may I help you?”
Lorena pushed her round glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Hi, Ms. Cunningham. This is Lorena García Fernández with Love, Lorena. I was hoping to get some more information on your offer.”
Beathas’s tone warmed, and something shuffled on the other end of the line. “Thank you for getting back to me so promptly. Forgive the cloak-and-daggers. Based on the Viscount Duglass’s recommendation, Her Majesty the Queen is interested in hiring you.”
Her…her who now?
“Excuse me?” Lorena stammered. “Is this a joke?”
“I assure you, it’s not. Her Majesty is not in the habit of joking.”
Lorena struggled to string words together. “No, but that’s—that’s the queen. Of an entire country.”
“Aye.” Beathas sounded as if she was beginning to doubt Lorena’s mental acuity. “She would like for you to return to Ìovoria and find an appropriate match for Crown Prince Callum.”
The crown prince! Silently, Lorena fanned herself, mouth agape. No way. Absolutely no way. This is unreal.
Tascha gave her a weird look from the front desk.
Lorena widened her eyes and shook her head. You have no idea.
“Are you there?” Beathas asked.
“I—yes!” Lorena squeaked. “Yes, I’m here. Sorry. Just a little…surprised, is all.” “So? Is that something you’d be interested in doing?”
Lorena’s voice caught in her throat. “I—yes, absolutely. We can do that. Did she have a timeframe in mind?”
“We could fly you here as early as next week. We would cover all travel costs, of course.”
An all-expenses-paid trip to her favorite country. She would have to clear her schedule, but Natascha could take her appointments. Her best friend had a strict no-airplanes policy, which was why all international work fell to Lorena. “How long would the trip be?”
“Her Majesty would like to see results within a month.”
Lorena winced. A month? Doable, but tight. “Where would I be staying?” A local hotel, probably. She’d have to rent a car, schedule visits to meet with the prince… “You would stay in a guest suite in Àverness Palace. Her Majesty feels it will give you the most accurate representation of her son to see his day-to-day life.”
The palace? Lorena’s brain melted. “I…okay. I mean, of course. That makes sense.” “And if you’re successful, the royal family will, of course, be happy to provide their seal of approval behind your business.”
What would my dad say if I had a literal prince as a testimonial? Lorena finished up the call, taking precise notes on the details and logistics, and squealed in disbelief as soon as she’d hung up. Natascha immediately came over and perched on the desk, and Lorena caught her up on it all. “Are you okay with handling things stateside for that long?”
Tascha nodded. “Besides, it’s not like we can turn down the opportunity to match up a royal.” She gestured to the framed testimonials. “Imagine putting a real-life prince on that wall.” Heaving a sigh, she wound the end of her braid around her index finger. “You should call your parents and tell them you’ll be traveling again.”
The jingling bell announced a walk-in visitor, and Natascha left Lorena to attend to them. Lorena called her mother, beaming. “You won’t believe the client I just landed. The queen of Ìovoria. She wants to hire me for Crown Prince Callum. The future king.”
Lorena’s mother continued typing on her keyboard. “Why did you call me when you know I’m at work?” Graciela had built her accounting firm, Fernández Financials, from the ground up, much like Lorena had established her own matchmaking business, but work had taken the number one place in her mother’s life for as long as Lorena could remember.
Still, I didn’t think this would be one of those times. Lorena’s smile slipped. “Mamá, I just got hired by actual royalty.”
“And I have monthly deliverables to produce. Did your father put you up to this?” The keyboard clacking stopped. Graciela huffed. “Damn it, now I input the wrong data. Look, can you call me after work?”
“Actually, I don’t know when I’ll be out of work, so I’ll call you.”
Lorena deflated. “Sure. Love you.”
Her mom hmmed in acknowledgement and hung up.
Lorena took a deep breath and set her phone facedown on the desk. Determined not to let either of her parents get her down, she printed out her spreadsheet for packing for international travel. “Amado, we’re going to Ìovoria!”
Love, Lorena is a steamy contemporary f/f romance about a matchmaker who falls for her royal client.
Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @authorivyljames for even more content!