Title: Driven to Matrimony
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Dina Maitland spends almost as much time extricating her movie-star mother from personal messes as she invests in her forensic accounting job—so much time, she may no longer have a job once she cleans up her mother's latest fiasco, her engagement to a twenty-something film student. Vowing it's the last time she puts herself on cleanup duty, Dina sets off for South Carolina to stop the pending nuptials and, along the way, almost literally runs into the father of the groom.
Ben Cutler has troubles of his own, with his business under attack from shady competitors and a government audit looming. Not one to trust women after a painful divorce, he finds an equally reluctant ally in Dina as they aim to stop the wedding.
They have another problem: As they drive each other to distraction, an inconvenient attraction blossoms between them. Can they face their pasts and overcome a series of comic disasters, putting aside their budding passion to complete their mission, or will they give in to the most alarming catastrophe of all—love?
Ben Cutler spotted the out-of-control sports car staggering toward the open road as soon as he entered the parking lot. It moved in fits and starts, then seemed to gain speed as it headed directly toward him. Only quick reflexes and a last-minute dive out of the vehicle’s path saved him from an otherwise painful impact. The woman was a demon! Had she deliberately tried to mow him down?
He dismissed the notion as the car continued to swerve back and forth across the roadway only to veer off and skid down an embankment. There it came to rest, sinking into what looked like marshland.
Had she injured herself? He broke into a fast trot and headed down the road to check. Foolish woman. Taking off like a runaway train when she obviously didn’t know the first thing about operating a stick. Just like so many so-called modern women. Independent. Know-it-all. Until they needed help, and then, no matter what a guy did, it wasn’t what they wanted.
Ben slowed his pace. She emerged from the vehicle only to step into the muddy bog. Whoa. That misstep wasn’t going to improve her mood.
He couldn’t have called it better.
She struggled to unplug one foot from the gunk. When she finally succeeded, it was unclear whether a shoe still remained or had been left behind, buried, because dark mud covered the entire appendage. In order to remove the other foot, she was forced to stick the first foot back in the muck, and this time, it seemed to sink even deeper. As she realized the depth of her predicament, her reaction transformed from surprise to dismay to anger.
He could have sworn he heard epithets not becoming a lady, but he wasn’t close enough to discern her exact words.
She appeared unharmed, though she’d probably never wear those shoes again.
He should be furious with her for leaving him behind and almost mowing him down. But despite her actions, her gyrations fascinated him as she tried to figure out the extent of the car’s troubles and how to extricate both herself and the little sports car from the quagmire. She was kind of cute trampling through the mire, tentatively lifting one foot, then the other to inspect the damage. She bent over and his breath caught. Cute became curvaceous.
She trounced back to the car, got in, and discarded her shoes, pitching them over the door to the outside with a vengeance. Nothing happened when she attempted to restart the vehicle. It wasn’t even grinding or kicking up mud. Just emitting a halfhearted gurgle. She leaned over the door and frowned at her slimy surroundings. Despite the sleek cut of the auburn hair that hit just above her shoulder, she looked pathetic and vulnerable.
Ah, hell, he needed to get moving. Time to put her, and the car, out of their misery. “Interesting parking technique, sinking it in the mud. Myself, I prefer the brake.” Startled and embarrassed, Dina couldn’t think of a fitting comeback. “Very funny.” Cool it. Stop sparring with him. You need his help. Fixing a smile on her lips, she said, “I’ve tried everything I can think of to get out of here, but nothing’s worked.” “I’ve noticed.” His mouth arced into an amused smile.
She supposed she deserved the smug attitude, but she hated her defenseless position. “So?” she asked, appealing to his sense of chivalry.
“So, you need my help?”
He was going to make this difficult. She deepened her smile, now appealing to his masculinity. “You’re quick.”
“And if I provide it?”
“I’ll be very grateful.”
“I need a ride more than your gratitude.”
She groaned and rolled her eyes. “I told you, I don’t pick up strangers.”
“We won’t be by the time we extricate you from this mess. Look, I really need to get to Edgar Island fast. I promise I won’t attack, rob or leave you stranded in this rain forest.”
A small scar in the shape of a comma protruded from his left eyebrow. It did deliciously wonderful things to his expression as he pled his case. Curiosity got the better of her. “Why the big hurry?”
“I just learned my twenty-year-old son has taken up with a woman who’s way older than him. They’re talking marriage. I’ve got to put a stop to this nonsense before it’s too late.”
Twenty-year-old? Older woman? It couldn’t be. But it must. There couldn’t be two May-December romances on such a tiny island. His son was about to marry her mother! The revelation changed everything. This guy had suddenly become her ally. Not only did she need him to pull her out of this ill-placed mud, she also needed him to help disentangle her mother from the woman’s bog of ill-conceived romance.
“Can you really get me out of here?”
He nodded, his expression confident, knowing.
“Okay. But I’m going to tell the rental agent I’ll call him as soon as I arrive. If he doesn’t hear from me in two hours, he’s to call the authorities.” Her claim was for effect only. She didn’t trust the agent to do any more than what little he already had. Besides, after dropping the little bomb about his identity, she wasn’t about to let this guy get away.
“Fine. How about you? Do you promise you won’t make any passes?”
She rolled her eyes again. “Oh, brother.”
“A guy’s got to protect himself too.” He held up a hand. “Stay put. This place has a tow truck out back. I’ll go hire the agent’s services.”
“There’s a what out back? How do you know?”
“I saw it through the window when I was on the phone. Strange, isn’t it? How that nuisance call worked to my benefit.” He raised his eyebrows à la Groucho Marx, as if to say “Gotcha,” and walked off.
Dina sat very still in the rental car she was about to share, repressing a scream. She’d been had.
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I love Hollywood’s screwball comedies of yesteryear. Films like “The Philadelphia Story” and “His Girl Friday” featured strong female leads (for instance, Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell) teamed with witty, charming leading men (Cary Grant and James Stewart). More recently, “What’s up Doc?” with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal attempted to repeat the genre.
I wanted to write my own screwball comedy because I love the fast pacing and great one-liners of those movies. I took my inspiration, not the plot, characters or setting, from Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge, the tale of a mother and daughter struggling to come to terms with each other’s personalities. Since this was to be a romance, it had to revolve around a love story. As it turned out, there are actually five love stories: the main story between Dina Maitland and Ben Cutler; the mother-daughter story between Dina and her movie star mother, Jocelyn; the strong relationship between single dad, Ben, and his college student son, Rick; though divorced, there’s still much shared by Jocelyn and former husband, Cal, Dina’s father; and finally, there’s the developing love amongst all five members of this new family.
The story also skirts the issue of cougar romances, since the event that triggers the ensuing actions is Jocelyn and Rick’s announcement of their engagement and imminent marriage. Jocelyn is in her early fifties and Rick is twenty. Neither Dina nor Ben is delighted to hear the news, but it’s not the age difference that concerns them. Dina worries that her mother may be taking up with a significantly younger man to garner more publicity, while Ben secretly fears his son may have attached himself to the established star to jumpstart his fledgling directorial career. I wanted to make it clear to readers that I had no problem with the idea of an older woman involved with a younger man. This just wasn’t the story in which I wanted to explore that situation.
I’ve visited South Carolina a number of times over the years, once spending several days on the Isle of Palms just north of Charleston and a few years back, staying with a friend who lives in the low country near Hilton Head. All these experiences combined in my head to help me create the lush, isolated backdrop of the fictional Edgar Island for this story.
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Barbara Barrett’s first professional career was as a human resources analyst for Iowa state government, and her continued fascination with the jobs people do infiltrates her plots almost as a secondary character.
A member of Romance Writers of America, she was first “published” in sixth grade when a fictional account of a trip to France she wrote for school appeared in her hometown e, the Burlington Hawk Eye. Her essay, however, never envisioned that, years later, she would trip on a curb near the Arc d’Triomphe and have to limp her way through the Louvre.
She has published eleven contemporary romance novels, two contemporary romance novellas and six cozy mysteries in her Mah Jongg Mystery series.
Now retired, Barbara spends her winters basking in the Florida sunshine and returns to her home state of Iowa in the summer to “stay cool.” She married the man she met in sensitivity training for dormitory advisors her senior year of college. They have two grown children and eight grandchildren. When she’s not writing, she’s spending time with friends or playing Mah Jongg.
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