“I have to admit, when you said I needed additional information, I thought you meant food preferences, favorite vacation spots, et cetera.” She blew a loose curl off her forehead.
“Our discussion should make your job easier, not harder.”
She laughed, a sharp burst of air. “You have that flipped.” She took her wallet out of her purse and offered him a twenty-dollar bill. “I hope this covers my dinner?”
He pushed the money back at her. “That’s too much and besides, the company paid. Why is it harder?”
She left the cash on the table. “So far, you’ve told me about you, your family and the Stavroses. What about the wife I’m supposed to find? Where does she fit into this?”
It was a good question. He’d been so focused on the terms of the acquisition, he hadn’t thought beyond standing in front of a justice of the peace. He said the first thing that came to mind. “She’ll be well compensated.”
Her gaze widened with what he could only call horror. “Money doesn’t make a marriage,” she stated, her syllables crisp and precise.
He shrugged. “I beg to differ.”
She leaned over the table, blond curls tumbling over her left shoulder, her words intense and fast. “When the war broke out in Croatia, my mother and father gave up everything to be together. Their families, their country, their religious communities. They came to the United States with barely a dime. But they had love, and that made us richer than most people I knew growing up.”
Luke blinked, once. He had no idea her parents had been war refugees. “That’s admirable. It takes strength to start a new life.”
Her features relaxed into a smile, a ray of sun peeking from behind a dark cloud. “Thank you. And love is what gave them that strength—”
“It’s a good story. For them. But in my experience, marriage is best viewed a merger between two parties who desire a joint investment.” He shrugged. “Usually in children. But the parties also need to protect their individual assets. The right candidate will know that.” He gave the folder a decisive tap.
* * *
Danica rubbed her temples. She rarely got headaches, but it felt like a woodpecker and a jackhammer had had a baby in her skull, and the baby was throwing a tantrum. Luke couldn’t really believe the words coming out of his mouth.
“I thought...” She paused. In the aftermath of their conversation, her assumptions seemed so naïve. “I thought you wanted to fall in love with someone. That’s why you hired me.”
“It’s business. That’s why I hired an executive recruiter.”
“But...love. Don’t you want that?”
He looked as if he pitied her. “Humans confuse endorphins released during sex for love, and then they use the confusion to manipulate themselves and others. But it’s just a chemical reaction caused by hormones and preprogrammed neurological responses.” He held up a hand to stop her before she could speak. “I know. Your family. But trust me. I’ve seen my scenario play out far more times than I’ve seen yours.”
How did someone with everything going for him—gorgeous looks, genius brain, socially prominent family, Midas’s wealth—have such a cynical outlook? It made her soul physically ache. She took her phone out of her tote and opened up the rideshare app.
“I’ll have another list of candidates for you in the morning.” She swept her notebook into the bag and pulled the bag’s strap over her shoulder as she stood up. “Thank you for dinner. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
He stood up when she did. “I’d like to discuss this tonight. The clock is running.”
The drumming in her skull would make a death-metal band proud. “Your criteria haven’t changed, so I’ll fine-tune the parameters. The difference will come in how I conduct interviews, to see if I can suss out if their attitude toward marriage matches yours.” She tried to smile but was only partially successful. “I’ll email you the list of candidates tonight, so you’ll have it in the morning. Thanks again for the burrito.”
She turned on her heel and exited the restaurant, heading for the nearest street corner. The car she had ordered via the phone app should arrive soon to take her to the train station. And not a minute too early.