The Cinderella Deal(9)

By: Jennifer Crusie

He sat opposite her at the big round oak table. She turned on the stained glass lamp that stood to one side, and it cast a Technicolor kaleidoscope on the wall and ceiling. More color. Everywhere he looked, color and clash. How did she sleep in this place?

“A business proposition.” Daisy tilted her head at him. “I’m not a businesswoman.”

Linc studied her in the lamplight: masses of dark curls, big dark brown eyes spaced far apart over a blobby nose sprinkled with freckles, a wide, rosy, generous mouth. This woman looked so wholesome, she could sell milk to dairy farmers. If he put her in a real dress instead of clothes three sizes too big for her, she could pass for the girl next door. She wasn’t his type—he liked lethally elegant blondes, the tinier the better—but she was definitely Prescott’s type. He cheered up considerably.

“I need a favor.” Linc leaned forward, exerting all his charm. “A practical, extremely confidential business favor.” He saw her draw her eyebrows together at the word “confidential,” and added, “It’s not illegal. And I’ll pay your back rent.”

The eyebrows flew up. “That’s three hundred dollars.”

Linc nodded. “I know. I’m desperate. I need a fiancee for twenty-four hours.” That sounded a little odd, so he clarified it. “Only a fiancee. A platonic fiancee.”

“I understand that you’re not propositioning me.” Daisy folded her hands on the table like a polite child.

“You can stop making that clear.”

Linc relaxed a little. “Good.” He took a swig of his beer, amazed at how much more difficult this whole 

thing was than he’d imagined. It wasn’t just the embarrassment of admitting what he’d done. It was also Daisy Flattery. There was something about dealing with this woman that reminded him of the way he’d felt messing around with the chemistry set he’d had when he was a kid. Volatile. Unpredictable. Her voice broke his train of thought. “Why do you need a fiancee?”

He took a deep breath and told her, haltingly at first but then becoming more confident as he explained, and she didn’t throw him out or go off into fits of laughter.

“You’re in a mess,” she agreed when he was finished. “But I don’t see how you think I could help you. I’m hardly the wifely type.”

“No, but you could be for twenty-four hours. I’ll pay for a new dress. All you have to do is pretend to be the wifely type for the space of a speech and a cocktail party. I’ll have you out of there by Friday at midnight and back home by Saturday afternoon.”

Her laughter spurted, something between a giggle and a snort. “So you pick me up out of the gutter, and I get a new dress, and I pretend to be something I’m not, and then at midnight I run away and turn back into a pumpkin.” Her grin widened. “It’s a Cinderella story.”

“I guess so.” Whimsy was not Linc’s strong suit.

“And you get the job of your dreams and the time to finish your book.” She tilted her head. “I like this story. Everybody wins.”

“Even Guthrie,” Linc said. “He’ll get your back rent.”

“And I get to keep Annie.” Daisy smiled at him, warm with gratitude. “That was nice of you to tell Guthrie you didn’t mind, since you didn’t know whether I’d do this or not, and you hate cats.”

He looked at her, puzzled. “I don’t hate cats.”

Daisy’s smile cooled. “I saw you kick Liz once.”

Linc frowned at her. “Liz?”

Daisy nodded to the black cat curled up among the debris on the floor. It hadn’t moved at all since he’d been there. Maybe it was dead. He fought back an urge to poke it with his foot to see if it was breathing, and that brought back his earlier encounter. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t kick it, I just nudged it out of the way with my foot. It walked on my car.”

Her smile disappeared completely. “The nerve of her.”

Oh, great. Now she was off on a tangent, mad at him for something he hadn’t even done. “Forget the cat. Will you do it?”

She thought about it, setting her jaw, and Linc had a sinking insight into how stubborn she could probably be. Then she said “Yes,” nodding sharply. “For a thousand dollars.”