The Cinderella Deal(5)

By: Jennifer Crusie

Annie curled up and went to sleep. Liz licked up the last of the tuna and fell unconscious with pleasure. Daisy sat silently for a long time, staring at the patterns in her stained glass lamp.

Upstairs, Linc stretched out on his chrome and black leather couch, bathed in the cool light from his white enameled track lighting, his headache receding but his troubles intact. It didn’t help that the mess he was in was his own fault.

He’d lied.

Linc winced. He wasn’t a liar; he couldn’t ever remember lying before. But he also couldn’t remember anything he’d ever wanted as much as he wanted to teach history at quiet, private Prescott College. And he hadn’t lied about anything important in his interview for the job: his credentials were all real and impressive, and his goals were honest and good.

Linc closed his eyes. Rationalization. None of that mattered. He’d lied. The memory of his interview came back in painful detail. Dr. Crawford, dean of humanities, and Dr. Booker, head of the history department, had interviewed him. Dr. Crawford looked like a retired southern cop: big, beery, genial, 

with an overall air of stupidity. He wore a bow tie in what Linc thought of as a feeble attempt at an academic look. Dr. Booker needed no such camouflage. He looked as if the moisture had slowly seeped out of him over the years, leaving only a dried-up little shell behind horn-rimmed glasses. Line’s dreams of a department headship had begun when he saw that Booker was older than God. And things had gone well at first. They’d been impressed with his credentials, impressed with his first book, published four years before, impressed with his demeanor, and just impressed with him in general. He knew he was good; he’d sacrificed for years to make sure that he was good, that he’d published in the right places and presented at the right conferences, that his background was above reproach, that he always did and said the right thing. And now the only question was, would they think he was good enough? But that hadn’t been the question. The question that Dr. Crawford, his fat lips pursing, had asked was “Are you married, Dr. Blaise?”

“No.” And then he’d seen the look on Crawford’s face: regret. Linc hadn’t made it as far as he had in a very competitive profession by being slow. “But I’m engaged,” he’d finished. Then he’d had a stroke of what at the time had seemed like genius. “Prescott would be the perfect place for us. We’ve been waiting to get married until I was established so we could raise our children the old-fashioned way.”

Crawford didn’t just thaw, he blossomed. “Excellent, excellent. Old-fashioned values. You’ll definitely be hearing from us again, Dr. Blaise.”

Dr. Booker had sniffed.

And Linc had wondered if he was losing his mind. It was bad enough that he’d created a fiancee; he’d really sent himself to hell when he’d babbled about mythical children. And the weird part was, it seemed so true while he’d been saying it. Not the fiancee part, but the idea of settling down with some elegant little woman and reproducing in a small town. The pictures had been there in his head, sunny scenes of neat lawns and well-behaved children in well-ironed shorts. You’re pathetic, Blaise, he’d told himself at the time. And you lied. God’s going to make you pay for that. You’ll probably get struck by lightning.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t lightning that slugged him from behind, but Crawford. He’d been invited to speak to the faculty on his research, the standard jobtalk audition for a college position. And, Crawford had written, make sure you bring your fiancee.

Right. Linc punished himself with the thought of it and drank more beer. He deserved this. If Prescott wouldn’t take him on his own very considerable merits, he should have just let them go. There were other schools. And once he finished the book he was working on—

But he couldn’t finish the book. Not at the city university, where he was now, not while teaching three awful, mind-numbing classes. To finish the book he needed someplace like Prescott. And to get Prescott he needed a plan.

Linc shifted on the couch. He actually had two plans. One was to show up without a fiancee and probably not get the job. That one had the benefit of honesty and not much else. The other was to convince somebody to pose as his fiancee, and then if he got the job, he could tell the people at Prescott that the engagement was off. They couldn’t take the appointment back. As a plan it wasn’t great, which was why he’d put it out of his mind until three days before the interview, but as the deadline approached, it became more attractive. It beat not getting Prescott.