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C4 4

Fortunately, he found her seconds later. The woman hadn't even approached the exit of the scene, but she seemed in the right direction for him to make a call to the police.

- What are you going to do? - She yelled, coming from behind.

Janet, whose forearm was wedged into space where the cans are collected from the vending machine, raised her nose impertinently at him like he was a majesty, and Mark just a servant.

- I'm trying to get my Diet Coke back, thank you very much.

Mark hid a smile.

- Well, to get the drink, you must first insert the coins.

She let out an exaggerated sigh.

- I know perfectly well Captain Obvious and I already have. But this stupid machine only brings the can close enough that it doesn't fall over, probably this way the owner makes extra money.

She bit her tongue at that comment, considering that he was the owner.

Janet pushed her arm into the hole.

- I almost did it.

- Do you want to get your arm out of there before I take it away?

Burning flames shot out of her blue eyes, making her even more charming.

- Don't you dare tell me what to do.

Mark rolled his eyes. Excellent. Not only would he have to call the police when his arm got stuck, but he would probably also have to call his lawyer to find out when he would sue him. No wonder he needed help finding a partner for the wedding. This woman meant endless trouble.

Searching for a different tactic, he gently placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned over her.

- You're right it's not my business. Stay in this position as long as you want. Ah ... let me tell you that guy on treadmill number two seems to have good eyesight. Another squat and I guarantee he'll come asking for your phone number.

- What? - Her cheeks lit up and she jumped. She glanced over her shoulder, then turned to him with narrowed eyes- Hey, that's a dirty trick. There is no boy there.

- No, but if he had been there, he would have been rewarded with the sight of a shocking pink thong. Not to mention, I'm sure my dirty trick has saved you at least eight weeks of physical therapy.

Janet crossed her arms, but there was a hint of a smile on her lips.

- For the record, it's not shocking pink. It's neon pink. Thanks anyway - she murmured.

Mark sighed and nodded.

- How about starting over? I'm Mark Robbins- She held out her hand.

She looked at him without bothering to squeeze it and immediately her smile faded.

- I know who you are, Mark ... We spent four years together in high school.

He narrowed his eyes at her and looked at her. Four years? Impossible. There was no way that during all the years of high school he hadn't noticed her or asked him at least once for her to come out.

- Are you sure?

- I'm sure- Her expression turned into a mask of coldness- And you also asked me to go to prom at the end of sophomore year.

She blinked and swallowed.

- Did we go to prom together?

What the hell? It was only getting worse.

- No. I said you asked me to go to prom. Then two weeks before, one of your classmates told me that it was some kind of initiation ritual to ask a girl outside of your circle to hang out. It was a joke ... but she had already bought a dress and everything else.

Okay, it wasn't just getting worse. It went from bad to worse. Then she came up with a memory.

- Wait. Are you fat Janet?

She lifted her chin and pinned him with a look of deep contempt, reserved only for bullies or men who kick puppies.

- My name is just Janet, but yes, it was me- she said coldly.

She pursed her lips and made a face. Of all the women who needed her cousin's business, did she have to be the one her classmates harassed? She put her hands to her temples, where she felt a throbbing dull pain. He should have been more surprised by his actions, but it wasn't hard to imagine himself doing something similar right now. When his friends teased Janet for her weight, he said nothing. He had never intervened in her defense. But he was a reckless teenager, who constantly sought the approval and acceptance of his friends since his parents had never been able to give him those things. It was one of the reasons he wanted to create a center in his gym for high school kids. To make a difference, but also to prevent young people from becoming what he had been: an egotistical idiot.

- I'm sorry- he said, dropping his arms. He wasn't exactly hanging out with the best company at the time.

Janet shrugged.

- Past water, now we are both adults and mature. At least I am.

- So, the fact that you don't want to hire me has nothing to do with our past? I mean, since you said you were a grown, mature woman.

- Exactly. This has absolutely nothing to do with high school.

But the tremor in her voice, combined with the way she hadn't met his eyes as he responded, told him a different story: this woman she knew how to hold a grudge.

Not that he blamed her for her. So he knew that he had hurt her a lot. And that only made him feel worse. It's no wonder he didn't want to cast it as his date. He probably didn't even want to be in her presence now, but he had to force her to change her mind.

- I find it hard to believe- he approached her and inhaled a pleasant aroma of citrus and flowers as if spring and impertinence were locked in a bottle. He hardly knew this woman, but somehow her fragrance suited him well. Everything about her seemed fresh and clean and bright. From her neon pink panties to the lilac color of her nail polish. He wondered how many years ago he hadn't noticed such a vibrant girl. Not even in passing.

Then he frowned, suddenly remembering the real reason he had come to her: he had to make her reconsider using her cousin's agency. And actually, this situation was turning out to be a more interesting job than he originally thought.

- Listen, I'm perfectly fine today- he told her in a determined tone. Let's finish here. We were both children. As you can see, I came out unscathed from what you did to me then.

A beautiful woman who desperately needs to hire a chaperone for a wedding? She guessed that most likely she hadn't gotten away so unscathed. Not that she could solve her problems, since she had enough of hers. In addition to recovering money from her invested from her in her premium business.

She cleared her throat.

- I- Glad to hear you say that. So, I think I'm hired, right?

Hired. Uh. The word still seemed strange to him. He couldn't believe she was one step away from begging him. And if Janet had asked her, she wouldn't have refused to drop to her knees and do it.

She mocked him.

- I don't think it's a good idea. At this point, it would be a bit embarrassing to pretend that you are my date and all.

- Small incidents in high school are not so embarrassing.

He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes.

- Do you know that you also broke my glasses on the day of the high school pranks?

Oh shit. He sighed and then shook his head.

- Well, you did. You and your friends bought all those bouncy balls and dropped them from the second floor to the students below and it turned out that I was one of them. A ball bounced off my face and hit me. He blew my glasses off, then a girl in a wheelchair rushed over them, trying to avoid the balls. My mom made me spend my savings to buy a new pair.

Mark rubbed his hand over his face and hoped he hadn't done anything more to this woman. Her karma was certainly vengeful and in her case, it was represented by a six-foot-tall blonde who wore contact lenses and had the memory of an elephant.

- Um ... I'm sorry too.

He brushed his hair away from his face, making the curls bounce down her cheek.

- No offense, Mark, but this whole situation linked to our past is a bit ... strange. It will not work. I'm not that good of an actress to pretend that I like you, much less pretend that I'm in love with you and right now I can't allow people to not believe me.

- You do not have to worry about that. Leave it to the professionals at Couple of Hearts.

- The professionals? Do you mean you?- Janet raised an eyebrow.

- Yeah ... uh, me.

About. Maybe he wasn't exactly a professional escort but she knew women pretty well. How difficult can this job be? All she had to do was think of it as a 120-hour date ...

Steffy had better be right that this job was necessary for business.

- My sister was also in the same high school. Do you think that she will believe this story for a second? Despite being three years down, she knows what you did to me at school.

- Okay, I understand your problems, but I can guarantee that I have changed- She had changed, there was no doubt about that. To prove it, she made a cross on her heart- Janet, you have to trust me.

- Ah! I don't trust you, and as far as I'm concerned ...

- Janet! - A female voice called out to her.

- And now? - she complained.

They both turned in the direction of the voice. A very attractive brunette approached all smiles and white teeth.

- Hi, Janet- she said when she approached them- What are you doing here? I thought you said you were allergic to gyms.

Mark smiled but looked at Janet with raised eyebrows.

Janet's cheeks flushed.

- Uh, no, Brooke. I said I have allergies and most likely- she pretended to cough herself several times- Exercises cause asthma so I don't do them and I prefer to take long pleasant walks, ”she said, swinging her arms back and forth.

Brooke frowned.

- So what are you doing here?

- I ... was just passing by ...

- Were you going through a gym?- Brooke laughed- I do not believe it. I know you very well. Unless there is a bakery on this side of the curb. Does it have something to do with your friend here? - She said, giving him a knowing smile.

Janet blinked.

- Friend? Who? - She looked at Mark in horror. DO NOT! Absolutely. He's not a friend, he's ...

- Her boyfriend- Mark intervened. Done. This was her only chance to seal the deal and she was taking advantage of it. Then he wrapped her arm around Janet and pulled her against her chest.

- He's not my boyfriend- Janet murmured into her shirt.

Brooke looked at him questioningly.

- Are you or are you not?

She gritted her teeth but smiled. It was obvious that Janet wouldn't make it easy for him.

- Janet has a wonderful sense of humor. It's one of the things I love about her.

She managed to escape her embrace and shot him a glare that almost killed him.

- It's nice to finally meet you, Brooke- Mark continued- I've heard a lot about you.

Brooke looked at him blankly.

- Really? Strange, because I never heard a bit from you— Then from her, her eyes widened on Janet and she slapped her forehead- Oh, I understand. You never told me, because you didn't want to attract bad luck, did you? I knew you believed in the family curse after all. Well, he wouldn't have said anything either. I read that those curses and voodoo rituals can be very difficult to remove.

Janet swallowed and looked at her speechless.

By mentioning the family curse, Brooke had confused him. Fortunately, during his life, he had learned to sail by sight, so he was ready to take the leap and run towards the finish line.

- You're right- she said in a low voice- We kept it a secret for exactly this reason. Since I met Janet, I haven't been able to leave her for a minute.

Brooke looked at Janet.

- Is that why you haven't called me lately?

- ME...

- We've been pretty ... busy- Mark added with a wink.

Brooke laughed- Ah. Well then all is forgiven- She glanced at her watch and frowned- I'd like to know more about how they met, but I don't want to miss my yoga class. We'll tell each other everything at Emily's wedding.

Janet finally found her voice.

- Y-yeah, we'll talk about it at the wedding.

Brooke tilted her head and looked at Mark.

- I think you'll be there too, right?

Mark nodded emphatically- You can bet on it. I wouldn't miss Janet's sister's wedding for the world. With or without a curse. Isn't that so, darling?

When Janet kept her jaw clenched, she gave him a gentle squeeze behind her. She recovered quickly and looked up at him with a bright Miss America smile.

- That's right, honey- she said through her teeth.

Brooke smiled at them.

- Perfect. Janet, don't think about the curse now. I promise not to mention it again, I'm so glad you met someone and can show your family that the curse was finally broken- With a wave of her hand she greeted them and then headed for the yoga room.

Mark turned to her with a frown

- What curse is this?

Janet ignored her question and planted her fists on her hips.

- What do you think you're doing?

- Help you.

- You mean to help yourself! - she blurted out.

- No, I mean help you. Janet, listen. You don't seem like the type of woman who would have called Couple Hearts on a whim, there must be a very serious reason or maybe even more than one. Be honest with yourself and don't let your pride and what has happened in your past affect you. I can help you with anything in the present if you allow me.

Janet looked down at her hands, tied in a giant knot of tension.

He was correct. This woman didn't just want a simple wedding date. There was certainly something else. But he had to remind himself that whatever the reason, it was none of his business.

After a few long moments, he finally spoke.

- It's okay- she whispered. It's fine. I have no choice at this time, you are hired.

Yes! He couldn't wait to tell his cousin. Fortunately, he was able to change her expression to a perfect mask of impassiveness.

- Great. Let's talk to Steffy then— He started walking, but after several steps, he realized Janet wasn't following him.

When he turned, he saw that she no longer had the haunted expression of a defeated and desperate woman looking for a mate. Instead, she had assumed a warrior stance and her full lips pressed into a thin line.

- Listen, tiger, Brooke may think we're both a couple, but my family can spot a bad actor faster than a critic at a B-grade film festival, so you better be convincing.

Mark stepped forward and had the satisfaction of watching her lose some of her courage.

- I can be very convincing- he reassured her several octaves deeper than she intended.

- Well ... okay then- She bit her lip- I am paying a lot of money for you so I don't want any mistakes.

Mark tore his eyes away from her luscious mouth and smiled.

- Don't worry honey, I guarantee that I'm worth every penny.

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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