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The Greek Billionair's Marriage Matchmaker

By:Holly Rayner

 ONE



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Zoey Forde sat sullenly in her seat in the badly-lit subway car,  squeezed horribly by the rather rotund gentleman sitting beside her. A  large crowd of people had shoved their way on board at the last stop,  and were jostling for space like blocks in a badly-played game of  Tetris. The armrest was beginning to bite into her leg, but she didn't  complain-she knew she was lucky to be sitting at all. She tried to enjoy  it while it lasted; she was sure she wouldn't be so lucky when she had  to change trains.



Twenty minutes had passed since the dark-haired beauty had left her  Brooklyn apartment. She had not been in a particularly sunny mood then,  but now, tucked in among a forest of bodies, she was perfectly  miserable.



There has to be an easier way! she thought to herself, before she  remembered the alternative to the underground sardine can was the New  York traffic. The subway might have been bad, but that was a fate worse  than death.



Zoey swore quietly, but not quietly enough.



"Hey, lady! Watch your language! There's kids around here!"



She sighed deeply, while several people laughed. It wasn't even nine in  the morning, but a ten-year-old was already telling her off.



She ignored the kid who'd reprimanded her, as well as the guy standing  to her right, who kept tossing creepy glances in her direction. Zoey  kept an eye on him. She carried pepper spray in her purse, and she was  not afraid to use it.



"And there're twenty more minutes of this, at least," she murmured,  frowning at the wrinkles the close quarters were putting in her cream  business suit.



Desperately seeking a distraction, Zoey fished her smartphone out of her purse, and went straight to her favorite news site.



The first article she saw was about some Hollywood mogul who was  producing a show his girlfriend had come up with. Zoey shook her head at  that, but tried not to dismiss the girl's talents just because she was  sleeping with her producer. The next story she came to was about a  senator in Washington, DC who was resigning because of a sex scandal.  That seemed to happen so often that Zoey wondered how the entire  Congress wasn't female by now. Finally, her eyes alighted on a story  that instantly caught her attention.



"Former actress Emma Knightly, 25, famous for her show-stealing  performances in the Marble House trilogy, today announced she is  divorcing 55-year-old millionaire fast fashion designer Eddie Brooks Jr.  The couple were married on April 7, 2015, just a year and two days ago.  Sources close to Ms. Knightly tell us the marriage broke down almost  immediately."



Zoey didn't bother to finish the article, looking instead for an e-book  to read, hopelessness welling in her veins. She clearly remembered the  day the Knightly woman had stepped foot in her mother's agency-no one  that had been there would ever forget it. She had glided in, wearing the  long white satin dress of the 1940s songstress she had made famous in  her Marble House movies. Her bleach-blonde hair was cut short, and she  wore what looked like a diamond tiara. She moved her thin white limbs in  imitation of a queen, and pointing regally at the secretary, demanded  to be announced.



"This is supposedly the city's premier matchmaking service," she had  started in arrogant tones, "but I doubt you'll be able to find someone  worthy of a date with me. I very nearly earned an Academy Award, after  all … "



Emma had continued her boasting until Zoey's mother, Melinda Forde,  swept into the elegant reception area. Feeling something very much like  disgust, Zoey saw her mother's ersatz smile and heard her rolling,  sycophantic, voice.



"Welcome to Melinda Forde Singles, my dear. Please allow me to say that  your performance in Marble House moved myself and my daughter to tears.  ‘Jenifer Swan's brief and tragic music career is portrayed to perfection  by Ms. Knightly'," she said, quoting a review she had read in the  Times. "I just hope our agency can perform as well for you as you have  for your adoring public. A client like you deserves only our finest,  most experienced matchmaker." So saying, Melinda had taken the former  actress back to Zoey's stylish, well-appointed rear office.         

     



 



The train came to a halt, and Zoey inwardly celebrated as the rotund man  saw his stop and left the train. She swore in her head when that  gentleman was replaced by a fossil of a woman that smelled strongly of  liniment.



Zoey had settled on reading A Study in Scarlet, but between the smell  and her thoughts, she was finding it hard to concentrate. In her mind's  eye, she saw herself sitting at her desk. Emma Knightly sat across from  her, sipping a glass of complimentary champagne. Zoey was asking the  actress a series of question and plugging her curt responses into her  computer. The answers, and Emma's dismissive nature, were grinding her  nerves, but Zoey kept her composure. That was her job, after all. Within  five minutes, it was perfectly clear what Emma wanted: a wealthy man  who would be mesmerized by her beauty and put his fortunes at her  command. It was obvious Emma didn't care about love in the slightest,  and the moment she realized that, Zoey knew she should have sent the  woman away, or at least tried to get her to consider something other  than her materialistic desires, but even back then, Zoey had known there  was precious little point.



Zoey had long ago learned that trying to argue with customers was more  trouble than it was worth. She'd scanned the system until her eyes  landed on Edward Alva Brooks Jr., a man that fit the bill perfectly. She  was sure the fifty-five-year-old would be attracted to Emma's body, and  that Emma would be attracted to his money. They had nothing in common,  no shared values, nothing two people could build a lasting relationship  on, but Zoey didn't argue. She simply made the match.



She forced herself to keep reading her Sherlock Holmes mystery. She knew  it was the only relief she was going to have for several hours. In a  few moments she would transfer to another train, which would take her  the rest of the way to the Manhattan offices of her mother's  relationship services agency. From the moment she arrived until  four-thirty that afternoon, Zoey would be tasked with ignoring her own  emotions, lying to people, and above all, turning a profit.



All day long, she would listen to women-almost always former actresses  and models-complain about the men that had formerly been in their lives.  How they neglected them, how they lied and cheated, how they never  earned enough money, and on and on. Men came though Melinda Forde's  doors as well, with complaints of draconian women, gold diggers, and  unfaithful lovers. Each of these people would tell Zoey they were  looking for true love, but when she questioned them, she always found  that was the last thing they sought. And on it would go, hour after  hour, until the hypocrisy became a physical weight upon her heart. Each  day, it became harder and harder to suffer through, and Zoey was sure  that soon, quite soon the way things were going, something in her mind  was going to snap.



A sudden thought cut through her misery like a laser, and all at once,  Zoey felt a small welling of hope within her. She only had to make it to  the end of the day, and then something wonderful would happen, because  for the first time in forever, she had a date of her own that evening.  She'd had to sneak behind her mother's back and use the Ember dating app  to accomplish that much, but she felt that the ends justified the  means.



The guy she would be meeting, Blake Howard, didn't seem obsessed with  hooking up, and it was obvious to Zoey that he'd taken the unusual step  of actually reading her profile before he messaged her. None of his  messages went along the usual line of Ember conversations, which  generally boiled down to "when can we hook up?" He was handsome,  intelligent, and soft-spoken, but a streak of mischief ran through him  that Zoey had to admit she found exciting. She had enjoyed every one of  their conversations, and was really looking forward to finally meeting  him.



"Maybe all of this bullshit has a silver lining," she murmured to  herself, and the fossil sitting beside her gave her a strange look.





TWO





Even after all the time she'd spent on the train, Zoey still had six  blocks to walk before she reached her mother's building. The creepy guy  from the subway could have been trying to follow her surreptitiously, so  she walked directly toward the first NYPD officer she saw. He broke off  his pursuit, and Zoey pointed him out to the police, before heading  toward the miserable day that waited for her. She tried to focus her  mind on her upcoming date, and cling to the tiny bit of hope it afforded  her.         

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