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Dating by numbers, p.1

Dating by Numbers, page 1

 

Dating by Numbers
 

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Dating by Numbers


  What is the formula to finding true love?

  Life is pretty perfect for Marsie Penny—she has great friends, a career she is passionate about, plus financial security. The one thing missing is a partner to share it all with. Frustrated by the online dating scene, Marsie’s created an algorithm to help find her perfect match. Could she have gotten her formula wrong, though? Her feelings for colleague Jason Ellis just don’t add up. Jason believes in love at first sight—which is ridiculous. And he doesn’t tick off any of her boxes...except for his charm, his warm smile and his cute butt. But all it takes is one heated kiss to make her wonder if she should rethink her numbers.

  “You make my job interesting, Marsie.” His teeth glinted through his easy smile.

  She knew that smile, had seen him flash it at many other people, and still it relaxed her. It also made her less interested in what might be happening in the dating app on her phone than what could happen if Jason sat down in one of her office chairs and leaned back against her desk again.

  Maybe she’d come around and sit on the edge, pull one leg up so that her skirt fell open just so...

  No. Stop. Jason was too short. And that was only strike one against him. He was also too smooth and too charming and they worked at the same place. He didn’t have the kind of education she was looking for in a man. Or the type of career. That was a total of six strikes when only three were needed.

  “Speaking of jobs, I’ve got to be on my way to one.” His voice was easy, but the twinkle in his eyes made her wonder if he knew what she was thinking.

  Since he’d come to her first cubicle a few years ago to remove a keyboard tray she’d banged her knees on, Jason had always made her feel like the world under her feet wasn’t stable.

  Like if she moved too quickly or took a wrong step, she would fall.

  Dear Reader,

  Books come from funny places. Dating by Numbers came about from my own forays into online dating. Sensing my nerves, a friend recommended a TED Talk by Amy Webb, who said she hacked online dating. I watched the video five times. I took notes. I was there with Amy and I, too, was going to hack online dating. I read Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. I read Dataclysm by the OkCupid guy (both good books). I listened to an online dating episode of the Marketplace Money podcast where an economist debated the opportunity costs of “winking” versus sending an email. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I was Marsie in all her uptight, nervous glory.

  That said, the first time I watched Amy explain her method, I thought, “Oh, but the guy who’s her hero wouldn’t pass her tests. He’d be the guy she never saw coming.” Of course, then I had to write that book.

  Dating by Numbers was a fun book to write. I enjoyed playing with my own history of neurotic online dating and hope you will enjoy reading it. And, in case you’re wondering, I did find my own hero while online dating.

  Enjoy—

  Jennifer

  JENNIFER

  LOHMANN

  Dating by Numbers

  Jennifer Lohmann is a Rocky Mountain girl at heart, having grown up in southern Idaho and Salt Lake City. When she’s not writing or talking with librarians around the country about reading, she cooks and laughs with her own personal Viking. Together, they wrangle three cats. (The boa constrictor is better behaved.) She currently lives in Durham, North Carolina.

  Books by Jennifer Lohmann

  HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

  Love on Her Terms

  A Southern Promise

  Winning Ruby Heart

  Weekends in Carolina

  A Promise for the Baby

  The First Move

  Reservations for Two

  Visit the Author Profile page at Harlequin.com

  for more titles.

  Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!

  Click here to Join Harlequin My Rewards

  http://www.harlequin.com/myrewards.html?mt=loyalty&cmpid=EBOOBPBPA201602010002

  To Girls Night Out dinner club. Thank you for all your encouragement to date outside my comfort zone.

  And to Megan Long, for pulling Reservations for Two out of a pile of contest entries and turning me into an author. And to Karen Reid, for shaping me into the author I am now.

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  EXCERPT FROM CHRISTMAS IN A SMALL TOWN BY KRISTINA KNIGHT

  CHAPTER ONE

  MARSIE PENNY GLANCED out her office door one last time before turning to her computer and entering her password into the dating website. She didn’t want to be filling out the profile now—especially at work—but one of her New Year’s resolutions was finishing the stupid thing. She’d promised herself that she’d have it done by today and, with the way things were looking at work, she wasn’t going to get home until after midnight. She was already behind schedule at work. Being behind schedule in her personal life as well would be beyond the pale.

  The temptation to close the door was strong, but she never closed her door. If she did, someone was sure to comment. So, certain the coast was clear, she turned her back on the gaping maw of her open door and hit Enter.

  “I know those colors.” At the sound of Jason Ellis’s voice, Marsie’s butt left the cushion of her chair and, once it made contact again, she spun around and slid her chair so her body blocked her computer. Not that she was embarrassed to be using an online dating service—everyone was doing it these days but...

  Okay, she was embarrassed.

  That wasn’t exactly right. Lots of the women at the research firm where she worked partook in online dating of one kind or another. Her cousins shared funny stories on the family’s Facebook group. She followed people on Twitter who talked about their experiences with online dating. But they were all using it casually. “To meet people,” they said. “It’s a good way to make friends.”

  Marsie met enough people. She had enough friends. She wanted a husband and two children and, at thirty-five, she had to act fast.

  None of which she would admit to Jason, who leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed over his usual office clothing. Today’s T-shirt was gray and long-sleeved, but no matter the color, the building’s manager and general handyman looked fit and manly. All he needed was a hammer to hang from the loop of his cargo pants to complete the image.

  But regardless of how good Jason always looked, time was slipping away from her, and the research firm’s general fix-it guy wasn’t the person to help her keep the clock in her grasp. She recovered and shrugged. “It’s a good way to meet people,” she said, managing not to wince when the inane lie came out of her mouth.

  “That’s what they say.” One corner of his mouth kicked up in a smile—a smile that seeme
d to put everyone but her at ease. His lopsided grin made her wonder what he knew that she didn’t, and she hated that feeling. “You know, if you want to meet people, you’re going to have to leave work. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this office when your car hasn’t been in the parking lot.”

  She arched an eyebrow at him. “All the more reason to meet people online.”

  “Ha,” he said, with the smile of his that she preferred of all of them. This smile widened his eyes and showed his teeth. Jason had straight, white, magazine-worthy teeth. It was one of the first things she had noticed about him. “You could...you know...go to the gym or join a hiking club or go to a bar.”

  She gritted her teeth to suppress a shudder. She’d tried the bar scene a couple times. She’d gone alone, willing to be “picked up” if the right guy came along. The dresses she’d worn had been cute, summery and flirty. She’d ordered glasses of white wine and smiled at random people.

  Her friend Beck said it wasn’t the dresses or the wine or the smiles that had failed her, but the fact that she’d brought books to the bar each time. Marsie’s excuse—sitting in a bar alone is boring—didn’t stop her friend from laughing until she cried. “It takes a lot of guts for a guy to approach a woman and, you know, not be a creep. Sit there with a book and the hurdle’s even bigger. And you probably brought something like Dataclysm or another book about statistics and math with you.”

  She and Beck had been friends for a long time.

  Marsie hadn’t gone back to bars after that. She could read and drink wine at home. It was quieter there, and the wine was both cheaper and better quality.

  But her experience with dating—or trying to date—was cringeworthy, and only Beck knew the whole story. She repeated a different bland lie for Jason. “I do get out beyond these office walls. But if you want to meet people, it’s best to keep your options open. The machine-gun approach, rather than a rifle.”

  “I wouldn’t have thought you knew much about guns.” He took a step into her office, and she moved her body to keep her computer screen covered. Just because he knew what site she was on didn’t mean she wanted him to read her profile. Or, God, see her profile pic. Beck had said the picture was cute, but Marsie thought it looked like a fake her. An online her. A her that looked like fun.

  Marsie had been accused of many things in her life, but fun wasn’t one of them.

  “Only what I read.” As a teenager, she’d done some target shooting with friends, but she hadn’t shot a gun since high school.

  “Based on what I know about you, I think you’d be more of an assassin than a gunner.” He took another step closer. A couple more steps and he’d be parallel with the two chairs in her office. If he got in the room that far, he might sit down. And if Jason sat down, he would want to chat. And when Jason wanted to chat, he chatted for a long time.

  She didn’t have time for that.

  “You’re the type of woman who would pick a stakeout position and hold it until mission accomplished,” he said, too close to one of those chairs for her comfort. “I’ll bet you date the same way. The work before the pleasure.”

  Instead of protesting, her mind caught on what he’d said. “You think dating is a pleasure?”

  “Sure. Don’t you?”

  “No.” Honesty raced ahead of sense in her mind to answer his question.

  “No?” His shock sounded genuine as he pulled out a chair so that he could sit. “What about it isn’t fun?”

  “Well, I haven’t had much experience with online dating. Maybe it will get fun.” That was only a half-lie. She didn’t have much experience with online dating, but more the dating part than the online. She’d signed up for the site over a year ago. Last New Year’s Day, to be exact. She’d paid for six months of use and gotten a grand total of one terrible date out of it. Of course, at the time she’d signed up, at Beck’s urging, she had been in the middle of a big project at work. Snapping a selfie and posting an edited version of her résumé had been all she had time for.

  This go-round, Marsie was doing it right. She and Beck had done a couple of photo shoots. She’d crafted the perfect profile and A/B tested a couple versions on Beck’s husband and his friends. More importantly, she’d scheduled time in her week for the next six months to meet people. Not a rigid schedule—it would be too much to expect that all men were available for a drink on Wednesdays after work. She’d set aside some Sundays for coffee, some Wednesdays for a drink and even a couple Tuesday lunchtimes.

  Flexibility was the name of the game.

  He waved a hand through the air. “It’ll be fun. You’ll see. Even if you don’t meet someone you want to sleep with, the world is full of interesting people and most of the single ones are doing online dating these days.”

  “Including you.”

  “So you think I’m interesting.” He leaned forward, his bicep flexing against the soft-looking cotton of his shirt as he rested an elbow on the edge of her desk.

  None of the men Marsie had dated, including Richard, who she’d dated and lived with for three years before they’d both realized they made better colleagues than lovers, had enticed her to lean into his space like she wanted to lean into Jason’s right now. She took a deep, calming breath instead, concentrating on the air as it soothed the suddenly alert nerve endings on her skin.

  And she definitely wasn’t tilting toward him in her chair. She was folding her arms on her desk and resting on her forearms. There was a difference.

  “Yes, you are interesting,” she said slowly. “And you do good work. I appreciate that.”

  He laughed. “Well, I’ve been put in my place, haven’t I?”

  “I didn’t...” She stumbled over her apology, retreating from the space with her body as well as with her words. What hadn’t she meant? And why was she apologizing? She and Jason worked at the same company; appreciating his work was a high compliment. What did she know about his hobbies or reading habits or anything else that would make him interesting?

  Though her mind raced from wanting to know more about him to how she could learn such things. He’d said he recognized the colors of the online dating site, and he admitted to using it. She could find him on there. Then at least she’d know what interesting things he did outside of work.

  No. She discarded that thought right away. One of the worst parts of online dating had been seeing all the people who’d looked at her profile and then not initiated a conversation. Of course, she’d looked at profiles and not initiated anything, too, so she knew she wasn’t supposed to take the silence personally, but knowing was not the same as doing.

  “I respect you as a worker,” she said finally. Respect you as a worker. God, no wonder Richard had said she couldn’t be passionate about anything that didn’t involve equations.

  Besides, Jason wasn’t shy. If he noticed that she’d looked at his profile, there was no way he would remain silent. He’d come in her office and sit in the chair, put his elbows on her desk...and she would want to lean right back into him.

  Silly. He wasn’t what she was looking for. Too short for one. Maybe an inch taller than her five-ten, and she wanted kisses that gave her a kink in her neck.

  “Worker, huh.” Disappointment came and went over his face, too quickly for Marsie to register why what she’d said was insulting. Then he smiled at her and the back of her neck tingled. “You’re right,” he said. “Coming from you, that is a high compliment. And I’m flattered. Thank you.”

  She cocked her head, examining his face for the teasing she was used to seeing in his eyes. When she didn’t find any, she reached up and rubbed the spot on her hairline where she could feel him, even though he was sitting on the other side of her desk. “You’re welcome.”

  “So, do I get to see your profile?” There was the teasing sparkle that she was used to.

  “No.”


  “But I could help you with it. I’m a guy, and I know what guys want. Plus, I’m great at getting things from people.”

  “I don’t want to get something from someone. I want to be liked and respected for who I am. And my profile reflects that.” She hoped.

  “What if I look you up or come across it on my own?”

  “Umm... Then I guess you see it.” The online algorithm was supposed to be spot-on. That’s what the creator had said in his book on datasets. In theory, based just on what she knew of Jason, his profile wouldn’t come through her matches. He wasn’t what she was looking for. Too...

  She snuck another peek at his arms. Too much bicep and not enough sleek suit.

  Her brain reminded her with a wag of her finger that just because he didn’t fill her requirements didn’t mean that she didn’t fit what he was looking for in a match.

  No, of course she wasn’t. Men like Jason weren’t looking for a woman with a PhD who played the daily bridge question in the paper. He was friendly and outgoing and charming. He liked to talk and laugh and socialize. He wouldn’t be interested in quiet evenings at home. Plus, there were thousands of women in the area using online dating. She’d be lost in the masses.

  “If I see it, and I think it can be improved, do you want me to let you know?”

  She leveled her sternest look at him. The one that had gotten her through being the only woman in her graduate school cohort. Only once had the men made jokes about Barbie not being able to do math.

  “With the condition that I get to give you feedback on your profile.”

  “That’s a deal.” His smile flattened out into a seriousness that she didn’t expect from him. No, that wasn’t fair. She’d seen him be serious when arguing with contractors about the new office space. He just never let his seriousness get in the way of the rest of his life. It was one of the things she liked about him.

  Though she was still surprised when the next words that came out of his mouth were, “We should be each other’s online dating support”—said with a straight face, even.

 
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