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Dream Date With the Millionaire

By:Melissa McClone

 CHAPTER ONE



Blinddatebrides.com is running thirteen chat rooms, fifty-six private IM  conferences, and 7828 members are online. Chat with your dating  prospects now!

Private IM conference #25 (3 participants) …

Englishcrumpet: Who would have thought I'd meet the man of my dreams at an online dating site? I still can't believe it!



DANICA BENNETT blew out a puff of air. She couldn't believe it either.

Alone in her neatly organized cubicle in the otherwise cluttered and  messy San Francisco office of Hookamate.com, she reread the purple words  written in a funky font on her computer screen. Englishcrumpet, aka  Grace Marlowe from London, deserved to be happy. Dani sincerely hoped  her friend would find happiness and wedded bliss with her new husband,  Noah. Especially with a baby on the way.

But Dani wasn't so sure living happily ever after was possible. She  glanced at the photograph of her family-her mother, her three younger  sisters and herself. Winning the lottery seemed more likely. Though  she'd never say those words to her newly wed friend. Dani typed, the  letters appearing in green-the color of money. Too bad her life couldn't  be as rich and bold as her computer font.

Sanfrandani: It is pretty amazing.



Grace had only known Noah a short time before marrying the bestselling thriller author and then found out she was pregnant.

More words, rust-brown in a plain but strong font, appeared on screen. Kangagirl, their friend Marissa Warren, from Australia.

Kangagirl: Amazing, yes, but not that rare. Apparently one in eight people meet their spouses online.



Dani almost laughed. Marissa sounded like a commercial for online  dating. Or like a happy bride. Which she would be in a few months. She'd  fallen in love with her temporary boss, not someone she met on  Blinddatebrides.com like Grace. Though it wasn't for Marissa's lack of  trying to meet a guy online.

Sanfrandani: Well, it's a good thing for me. Or I'd be out of another job.



Even this crappy job, she thought to herself and stabbed her fork at her  lunch, a limp chicken Caesar salad leftover from last night's dinner.

Englishcrumpet: What do you mean?

Kangagirl: You've lost me.



The two messages popped up on Dani's screen at almost the same moment.

Oh, no. She dropped her fork. Distracted by her friends' happiness and  her own bleak prospects, she'd revealed more than she intended. The  three of them had grown so close over the past six months she'd almost  let her secret slip out.

Time for damage control.

Sanfrandani: Nothing. I'm just so glad you guys joined  Blinddatebrides.com. I don't know how I would have survived these months  without your support and friendship.



But typing the words gave Dani a funny feeling in her stomach. What kind  of friend was she? Keeping the truth about what she was doing at  Blinddatebrides.com from Marissa and Grace.

Englishcrumpet: You've been through a lot, Dani. Losing your dream job  and getting used to your new one. Things will turn around. Just watch.

Kangagirl: And then, when you least expect it, you're going to meet him. That one special man.



Dani hoped not.

Snores drifted from the engineers' cubicle a few feet away. Someone must have pulled an all-nighter.

She needed to get her career back on track first. She'd spent the last  six months trying to find another job with no success. Distractions,  especially men, weren't allowed right now.

Kangagirl: The only question is … how do we make it happen?



We. Unexpected tears stung Dani's eyes. She ran her fingertips over the  bracelet-silver with crystal beads-Marissa had sent her after a trip to  Hong Kong. These women, even though they'd never met in person, truly  cared about her.

Sanfrandani: Please. No one needs to make anything happen. I'm doing fine. No worries.

Englishcrumpet: We're not really worrying. We just want to help. You joined this site for a reason, Dani.



But not the same reason as Marissa and Grace.

Guilt welled up inside Dani.

It was time to come clean. To stop lying.

Her fingers flew across the keyboard with lightning speed, in case nerves and fear got the best of her. Or her boss showed up.

Sanfrandani: I didn't join Blinddatebrides.com to meet men.

Kangagirl: Then why did you join?

Sanfrandani: Because



The cursor blinked, waiting for her to finish. Dani swallowed hard. Her  online friendship with Marissa and Grace was the only thing in her life  going well these days. Did she want to risk that?

But what kind of relationship did they have, really, if she couldn't be honest?

Dani took a deep breath and typed.

Sanfrandani: I was forced to.



She stared at the screen, her heart racing, her hands sweating.         

     



 

Englishcrumpet: Did someone sign you up like my daughter did with me?



Oh, dear. Dani snuck another look around the office before returning her trembling hands to the keyboard.

Sanfrandani: No, I signed up myself.

Kangagirl:???



Dani felt sick, but the truth had to be said. Er, typed.

Sanfrandani: I'm a spy.



"There's something you should see."

Bryce Delaney heard his assistant's voice, but didn't glance up from his  computer monitor and the database query he was writing. He didn't have  to.

Joelle Chang would be standing two feet from the edge of his  walnut-stained desk holding a manila file folder with a pen-blue ink  only so she could tell the difference on photocopies-tucked behind her  ear. Despite her college-girl long hair and trendy clothes,  forty-one-year-old Joelle was dedicated, thorough and  one-hundred-percent predictable. Exactly the way he liked things. And  people. "I pay you enough to see for me."

"You said you wanted to be kept in the loop about possible security issues."

Security. A top priority at his Web site Blinddatebrides.com. Bryce looked up. "Possible or probable?"

Joelle's almond-shaped eyes grew dark. "Two red flags."

Damn. He didn't need this on top of the other problems they'd been  dealing with. Scammers, spammers, hackers, marrieds, the list went on.

"It might not mean anything," she added.

In the last year, there had been a handful of false alarms. "But it could mean we have a troublemaker on board."

It wouldn't be the first time. He'd dealt with escorts, cheats, thieves  and liars. Had charges brought against them when possible, too.

Bryce wasn't about to let anyone take advantage of his customers. Too  many people pretended to be something they weren't, both in real life  and online. He had experience with that. His sister, too. But she was  more trusting than him. That was why he'd started a dating-make that a  relationship-Web site: to protect good people like Caitlin.

"What do you have?" he asked.

Joelle handed him a file. "This particular client has been a member of  the site for over six months. Everything about her looks good, including  her background check."

"Her?"

"Yes," Joelle answered. "None of the e-mail filters have picked up anything to suggest she's an escort."

Those were usually easy to detect since they asked for money in almost every e-mail.

"But the chat filter picked up something so we did a little  investigating," Joelle said. "The subject spends hours logged on to the  site each day, but she has not accepted a date yet, even though her  profile has been marked highly compatible with several men."

Bryce had worked with a psychologist to create an algorithm to match  clients based on their interests, backgrounds and personalities. Chats,  based on compatibility, were also arranged with groups of well-matched  people, too, since many people preferred group interactions to  one-on-one. Some clients, though, preferred to peruse the profiles  themselves and pick matches that way.

He opened the file and studied the photo of a woman. The messy blond  hair piled on top of her head and secured with a-was that a red  bandana?-caught his eye first. Not the most appealing hairstyle. The  picture itself was far from flattering. She wasn't smiling or looking at  the camera. Shadows obscured what he could see of her face, though she  looked flushed unless her skin was always red like that. Her profile  stated blue eyes, but he couldn't distinguish the color, really anything  about her. "She's been matched?"

"Yes. The compatibility program has matched her with seventeen clients  so far. Five of those contacted her. Others must have seen something  they liked in her profile because they e-mailed her, too. She replied  back to each one, but that was it. No additional correspondence. No chat  invites. Nothing."

"At least she's following the guidelines about replying to others even if you're not interested in them."

"Yes."

He read more in the file. Turning down potential dates wasn't unusual.  Bryce remembered one shy female client in particular, but others in the  past had misrepresented themselves. Better to err on the side of  caution. "You've taken the usual steps?"

Joelle nodded. "Customer service called to discuss her experience so  far. She asked as many questions as they did, and they were on the phone  for two hours."

"Two hours?"

Another nod. "I called her myself after that. She came across as highly  intelligent and very friendly, but remember that identity thief? Never  assume anyone who is nice is also harmless."         

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