Carla Westmoreland considered it another successful day as she shut down her computer and headed home.  She loved the satisfaction of doing well and making people happy in the process.

As she shut down the computer, the phone rang.  She glanced at it, debated, and then figured she might as well answer it instead of listening to the message in the morning.

“Perfect Pairing, Carla speaking,” she said, picking up a pen to toy with, as she doubted she’d actually need to write anything down.  About half the calls were “wrong numbers” from people who were nervous about using a matchmaking service.

“Miss Westmoreland, if she is available,” a masculine voice replied.

“I’m Miss Westmoreland,” she answered.  “How can I assist you this evening?”

“Miss Westmoreland, I have a special request for your service.  Are you available this evening to meet and discuss what we require?”

“Certainly,” Carla replied.  This wasn’t unusual, for a prospective client to want to meet somewhere other than her office.  Many people seemed to think using a matchmaking service meant they were somehow failing at life.  An initial meeting at a neutral location helped them get over the nervousness and self-doubt.  She had become adept at explaining that it was no failure to be too busy for dating.

She noted down the address and time, assuring the caller she would be there promptly.  Hanging up the phone, Carla opened her planner and wrote in the appointment as a record for later.  Being attentive to detail was just one reason her matchmaking service had become so successful.

She checked the address online.  To her surprise, it was an office building close to downtown.  Usually nervous clients wanted to meet in neutral places, such as restaurants, bars, or clubs.  However, some busy professionals did ask her to come to their offices after other staff went home.  It helped them feel more at ease, she figured, to be in the place where they had control, even if that same place was why they had little time for traditional dating.

Carla closed up her office and headed out.  The evening was pleasant, and it was easier than usual to get a cab.  She arrived at the building with time to spare, and when she went into the lobby, she was greeted by a uniformed guard at the high desk.

“I have an appointment with a gentleman on the fourth floor,” she told the guard.  He nodded, clearly expecting her, and after she signed a logbook, he handed her a visitor’s badge.  As she clipped it to her jacket lapel, the guard directed her to the elevators. They were locked, but he keyed in her floor.

She had hoped to check out the company listings on the lobby directory but didn’t see one in the lobby.  The occupants of the building obviously didn’t receive many visitors, or they preferred to reveal knowledge of their presence only to those who needed to know.  The guards probably had access to a directory.

In the elevator, Carla took her compact out of her purse and checked her makeup and hair.  She nodded her approval.  Presentation was important, especially with nervous prospects.  Showing up neat and well-dressed helped ease the tension.  Her suit was tailored to flatter her full curves, and the dark blue helped people see her as sincere and capable.

When the doors opened on the fourth floor elevator lobby, Carla blinked in surprise.  It seemed the whole floor was controlled by the same business.  The décor was Middle Eastern in style, with bold reds and greens accenting the wealth of marble.  Almost all of the interior walls were glass, giving an impression of wide, open space.

Perhaps an importer, she thought, as she walked toward the empty reception desk.  Small fountains were scattered about, and silk hangings stirred in breezes she didn’t feel.  The overall effect was like a desert oasis, opulent yet uncluttered.  She was just starting to wonder if she should sit down to wait or perhaps call out her arrival when a door opened.

The man who stepped through was wearing an expensive suit and carried himself with the air of a prince.  He regarded her a moment as if taking her measure, then gestured to the left with the leather folder he held.

She wandered into a conference room with a long, high table in the middle.  The room had no other furniture except for the chairs around the table.  At the far end of the table, a tray with a water carafe of cut crystal sat waiting, along with a phone.  She took a seat at that end of the table.

She was keenly aware that the man was scrutinizing her closely.  She put her planner down before seating herself, and then set her briefcase on the floor and hung her purse on the back of the soft leather chair.

He watched her until she was seated and then took the chair at the head of the table.  He set the folder down to gesture at the tray.  “May I offer you some water or other refreshment?” he asked in his cultured, accent-less voice.

“Water is fine,” she answered.  He poured the water from the carafe into a stemmed goblet with slow, steady movements. When he lifted the goblet to offer it to her, he used both hands, supporting the foot on his palm and gripping the stem with his other hand.  Carla took the goblet awkwardly, uncertain if she should attempt to take hold of the stem, brushing his fingers in the process.  She opted to cradle the glass in both hands, and as he released it, it seemed she had made the right choice.

He did not pour himself any water, and after a polite sip, she set the goblet down.  The whole encounter seemed formal and orchestrated to her.  She felt a twinge of nervousness, but she brushed it aside and folded her hands on her planner.

“So how can I assist you?” she prompted when he seemed content to sit in silence.

“We have a special need,” he answered.  “We require the best, always the best, and according to our research you are the best at what you do.”

“I try,” Carla replied modestly.  “I have been fortunate to work with wonderful clients.”

The man nodded slightly.  “All of your previous matches speak highly of you and the services you have provided.  You have, it seems, an innate talent for finding the perfect companion even in the most demanding circumstances.”

She felt a warmth flood through her cheeks.  Of course he’d checked up on her, but some prospective clients dug deeper than others.  How exhaustive had his research been?

Did he know that she’d started the company because she herself had such a hard time meeting a guy worth dating?  After a year of success after success for other people, she still hadn’t found anyone.

He clasped his hands on the leather folder much as she had hers.  “The companion we seek must be perfect.  She will be retained for six months and must be willing to sign a contract, as well as maintain confidentiality.”

Carla cleared her throat softly.  “Six months… I’m not sure you understand the nature of my services, Mr., uh…”  She trailed off awkwardly, realizing he hadn’t given his name.

“Sands,” he supplied.  “We are quite aware of your typical services, Miss Westmoreland.  This is a special request, as I indicated on the telephone.”  Carla detected a mild rebuke in his tone.

“Yes, you did say that,” she replied, willing to accept a chiding but unwilling to let him bully her into providing something that seemed wrong.  “But, Mr. Sands, I can’t very well ask the women who trust me to find them a long-term relationship to sign up for a six-month fling.”

“It is not a fling,” Mr. Sands corrected, seeming unperturbed.  “The companion we seek will live much like a pampered princess for those six months.  The dream of many a young woman, is it not?”

“Perhaps,” Carla agreed.  “What exactly are you looking for?”