v Playing with Matches by Cathy Yardley

Playing with Matches

featuring Cathy’s novella
Romancing Rose

Rose isn't looking for a relationship, she's looking for a tutor. Good thing Paul has a different lesson plan in mind…

Rose Parker decides to take a crash course in Vietnamese culture to avoid her grandmother's incessant matchmaking attempts. But when her hunky tutor offers to teach her about her heart as well as her heritage, Rose wonders if her grandmother isn't on to something after all!

PLAYING WITH MATCHES
Mass Market Paperback • April 2003
Signet
ISBN: 0451208307

Playing with MatchesWhen I was born, I had flame-red hair, and my Irish aunties were thrilled. That is, until my hair grew out the dark black walnut it still is to this day. As Irish as I've often felt growing up, one look at my face usually shows the other half of my heritage: Vietnamese.

I was thrilled when NAL/Signet put out the call, looking for Asian American authors for a romance anthology they were putting out. The theme: Playing with Matches, four tales of modern matchmaking with the Asian traditional culture as a backdrop. My story has a slight spin, with a half-Vietnamese woman coming to terms with the disconnect she feels from her cultural identity. The man who shows her about her past is the same man who wants to be a part of her future. Not only did I get to write and learn about my own background, I got to meet Kathy Greyle, Karen Harbaugh, and Sabeeha Johnson, the authors who complete the collection. It's the first ever anthology featuring Asian-American stories by Asian-American authors, and I'm proud to be a part of it. (Read more about the other authors of this anthology.)

 

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Playing with Matches


"This warmhearted anthology takes an old-fashioned premise and gives it a thoroughly modern, romantic flair. Lots of fun!"
-- 4 Stars from Romantic Times (posted 5.01.03)

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Playing with MatchesCHAPTER 1

Paul looked up, and felt a jolt through his system as he recognized Rose. She was dressed in another suit, with a slightly shorter skirt -- she had the legs for it, he noted. “Ms. Parker,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Gotta say, I didn't expect to see you here. Did the research suggestions not help?”

She sighed. “Well, to start off with, I'd like to apologize.”

His eyes widened. He didn't expect her -- and he was still wary of her. She seemed pretty driven, and she had her own agenda. He wanted to help her… that is, he wanted to help anybody who wanted to learn about the culture, he corrected himself. But it didn't seem like she wanted to learn about the culture. She just wanted to shut her family up. She could learn to do that on her own.

And that's exactly what he'd tell her, as soon as he was sure that's what she was up to.

“What would you like to apologize for?” he asked. “Wanting to use the center to stop your grandmother's dating service?”

“Actually, I was going to apologize for the not-dating-Asian-guys statement,” Rose said, and he noticed the pink rising in her cheeks. “I still felt badly about that. But you're probably right about using the center, as well.”

“Probably?”

“Well… I still think I've got some valid points. You don't know my grandmother.”

He smiled at that. He had two of his own. He knew quite well what kind of pressure a Vietnamese family could bring when it came to dating and marriage -- but that still didn't necessarily justify her approach.

And the Asian guy crack had stung, now that she brought it up. Not that that was the point of this exercise.

“Okay. Apology accepted,” he said, and stared at her.

She bit the corner of her full lower lip. “Um, since I'm forgiven, I don't suppose you'd reconsider helping me out?”

She was persistent, but he wasn't falling for her cuteness for an instant. “Same reasons, I assume?” He didn't even wait for a response. “You get the same answer. There are plenty of resources…”

“I don't learn that way,” she interrupted. “I need more visual clues. I was always better in classes that had a lot of presentations than the ones that made me plow through textbooks.”

He stared at her for a second, then played a hunch. “But you were still an excellent student, right?”

She paused. “Well, I got pretty good grades. But I knew how to counteract my weakness, and I got a tutor when it hit a crunch time.”

He took that in. “And it's crunch time now?”

“In a manner of speaking,” she said. “I've got a… well, let's say I'm taking a cultural test, and it's in my best interest to pass.”

Playing with Matches“A cultural… test?” He frowned. She was interesting, he'd give her that. Weird, yeah, but interesting. “Okay. And what do you get out of it?”

She paused. “You won't like the answer, so why ask?”

“And why should I help you?”

She smiled impishly. “Because you're a good, kind man, and I'll be in your debt?”

He grinned at that one -- he couldn't help it. “Besides my altruistic nature, why should I?”

“Well,” she said, sighing slightly and starting to reach for her purse. “I could pay you…”

“That's not the point here.” He waved a hand at her, gesturing her to put her money away. “The point is, you're still basically trying to use the cultural center, not to learn about your background, but to get out of a dating scheme. That's not really what we're here for.”

“Then what are you here for? Honestly, what are you… the cultural police?” Rose's sharp impatience “I want to learn. Isn't that enough?”

He didn't know why, but it wasn't. Maybe he was still holding her prejudices against her. Maybe it was because he knew, once she jumped through the hurdle her grandmother had put before her, she'd just go back to her blissful ignorance.

Hell, maybe it was still about the Asian guy thing.

“We have people who come here, who want their children to know the country and the traditions of their homeland. I have adults who come here from Vietnam to learn English, who will drive clear across the county because this is one of the few centers in Upstate New York that will help them. Now, tell me why I should use my time help a completely assimilated young woman fake being Vietnamese so her family will let her off the hook?”

Rose reacted as if she'd been slapped. She stood up.

“You've never known what it's like, have you?” The question was quiet but cold as the North Atlantic. “I'm not Vietnamese. And I'm obviously not white. Ever known what that felt like… that you don't fit in either place?”

He stopped. This wasn't the funny, self-assured woman who had walked into his office a week ago. He'd hit a nerve. No, he'd hit a raw, open wound.

“So you think it's funny and frivolous that I'm trying to show my grandmother that I'm Vietnamese enough to stay single. It's stupid, I know. But what's my alternative, Paul? Tell her, ‘I'm not Vietnamese, I'm not anything, so shove off?' If you've got a better solution, I'd love to hear it!”

He stood up, his hands out in a calming gesture. This was more serious than he'd realized. His self-righteous temper fizzled out completely. “I'm sorry. I was out of line, questioning your motives like that.”

Her eyes still flared, but she clamped down on her statement and picked up her coat. “I shouldn't have come here. There are places in the city, if it comes to that.”

“That's a few hours drive at least. When is your, er, test?” Paul asked, standing between her and the door as she struggled to tug her coat on. “Maybe I can help.”

“Maybe I don't need your help,” she said. “If I wanted my life dissected, I could just go see my Grandmother.”

Ouch. He leaned back against the door, steeling himself against her frown. “I apologized. I won't do it again. And I really do think I could help you. Really. I'm really, really sorry.”

Two could play the cute thing. He smiled his most winning smile, putting a hand out. “Come on. Friends?”

Playing with MatchesShe looked like she might bat his hand away, but she stood silently for a moment before sighing heavily. “Well, all right.” She reached out, and took his hand, giving him a firm shake.

He didn't let go immediately. Soft hands, he thought. A firm shake, but hands that were silky as rose petals.

He let go a moment later, letting his fingers trail against hers. He practically felt a shock between them. Maybe it was static electricity. Yeah, that was probably it.

But he continued to stare at her, and heard himself asking, “So what do you need to learn?”

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