The Cinderella Deal(7)

By: Jennifer Crusie


I should know, Linc thought gloomily, and stared at the ceiling. Make a note to call Julia about the Flattery woman, he told himself, and then realized that he didn’t have time to make notes. It was Tuesday. He was due in Prescott on Friday. He felt dizzy for a moment, and realized it was because he was holding his breath, his response to tension for as far back as he could remember. “Breathe, Blaise,”

his football coach had yelled at him in high school the first time he’d passed out during a game. “You gotta keep breathing if you want to play the game.”

He inhaled sharply through his nose and then stretched out his hand for the phone and punched in Julia’s number.

Five minutes later, Linc was listening to Julia laugh herself sick. “You told them what?” she gasped at him when she could talk. “I can’t believe it.”

“Knock it off,” Linc said. “It’s not funny. This is my career at stake here.”

“And we all know that’s more important to you than any of your body parts.” Julia snickered. “I love this. You want me to be the little woman? No problem. I’ll get one of those dweeby little dresses—”

“No. ” Linc broke in before Julia could get too attached to the idea. “I need a professional liar, somebody who won’t start giggling when the chips are down.”

“Daisy.” Julia’s voice went up a notch in approval. “She’s wonderful, absolutely trustworthy.”

“Except she tells lies for a living.”

“She tells stories, ” Julia corrected Linc with some heat. “Unreal but not untrue, that’s what Daisy says. And anyway, it’s not like you’re lily-white here, bud. You’re the one who created the Little Woman Who Could.”

Linc exhaled in frustration.

“I can’t believe you lied in the first place,” Julia went on. “I would have said it wasn’t possible. You really are a stick-in-the-mud, but maybe this will break you out of that rut—”

Linc glared at the phone. “I like my rut. I have to go. Good-bye.”

 

“Because you really are solidifying before my eyes—” Julia said, and he hung up. Oh, God. He let his head fall back against the leather chair back. Three days and no fiancee. He was in big trouble, and his only hope was a nutcake. There had to be a better way. The last thing he needed was to pin all his hopes for the future on Daisy Flattery.

He got up and got himself another beer.

Daisy spent the next morning trying to drum up work and failing miserably. When she got home, the kitten had escaped and was sitting on the doorstep waiting for her. So was the landlord, a man Julia called Grumpy Guthrie. Oh, no, Daisy thought, and then straightened her shoulders and went to save her cat, marching past the dark-haired thug from upstairs who was washing his nasty black car. She disliked his car almost as much as she disliked him; it looked like something Darth Vader would drive. Guthrie pointed at the kitten as if it were a cockroach. “That’s a cat.”

“Yes, I know.” Daisy took a deep breath and then smiled at him. Daisy knew she wasn’t beautiful, but God had given her something better than beauty—a glowing, wide-mouthed, man-melting smile, courtesy of her mother and a long line of southern belles who’d dazzled their way through history. It was her only physical weapon, but it never failed her. It didn’t now.

Guthrie smirked at her.

Behind her she heard the cat kicker turn off the water just in time for Annie to tear out one of her ungodly meows.

Guthrie flinched. “Daisy, you’re a month behind on the rent, and you’re not allowed to have pets.”

“I know.” Daisy pumped out more wattage on her smile. “You know I’ll pay the rent. I’ve lived here for eight years, and I’ve never let you down, have I?”

Guthrie closed his eyes. “No, but the cat—”

“I’m only keeping the cat until its owners get back,” Daisy said truthfully, since she was sure Annie’s owner would never get back to this apartment house. “It’s a very valuable cat, you know.” She dropped her voice to make Guthrie a conspirator with her. “One of a kind. An Alizarin Crimson. Very unusual voice. Don’t tell anyone, or there’ll be catnappers all over the place.” Guthrie blinked and she let her voice go back up to its natural register. “I’m sure Julia won’t mind, and the people upstairs will never know. It’s such a little cat.”