Mark Robbins really must make every penny spent worth it.
Nauseous, she signed the check for half her payment to the Couple of Hearts agency and stuffed it into an envelope.
A gigolo as an escort for his sister's wedding. Ew. I've never fallen so low.
Being at home, he just buried his head in his hands, considering that he wanted to stick his head in the toilet and flush. Was it that important to attend her sister's wedding with a beautiful man on her arm and show her mother, her cousin, that despicable one of her ex and the rest of her family that she wasn't cursed?
Yes. Absolutely yes, unfortunately, it was.
He would have spent any amount of money he didn't have even to temporarily stop the rumors. He had to draw on his few savings, which in his intentions should have lasted until a new job. Not that he blamed his family, but they didn't understand the pain he felt every time they started making such jokes.
It seems that our dear Janet has been abandoned by another man.
Hey Janet, you should patent your "super repellent".
Poor Janet still hasn't found a job. The curse was not limited to her love life.
She took several deep breaths until she felt strong enough to lift her head again. Everything was going well, her life will be better ... She had to believe it, she just needed to get out of her sister's marriage unscathed.
There was a knock on the door, then her mother leaned out.
- I can pass? Hello Darling.
Janet rolled her eyes.
- Mom, please. This is your house and I'm thirty years old, I no longer sneak boys into my room at this age.
- Well, not the boys but maybe a man in particular - she joked with her and went to sit on her bed -. So why don't you tell me about him?
- That's just what I want to know me - said with a smile -. I don't even know your boyfriend's name.
- Boyfriend? - She blinked -. Oh sure. Boyfriend - she slapped his forehead with his hand. Damn, she should have remembered these details too if she wanted this staging to work - His name is Mark. Mark Robbins.
Her mother frowned thoughtfully.
- You didn't go to school with Mark Robbins? He was a very handsome soccer player if I remember correctly.
Janet smiled slightly. She let her mother recall those details from her school experience.
- Uh, yeah. It's him - And if I was honest, I wouldn't have described Mark as "handsome."
Adonis, playboy, sexy as hell, and extremely handsome were acceptable descriptions. But handsome? No.
His mother frowned.
- Wasn't that what ...?
- Yes - He cleared his throat, trying to stop all embarrassing events from high school -. Yes, it's that Mark Robbins. But everything is in the past, apparently, now it is very nice.
- I mean, it's nice now. Of course, it is. Um, it's amazing - she could barely contain a snort.
Mark didn't seem entirely friendly, awesome, or changed. What kind of cocky was he, a man who had used his beauty to become a dating partner? He was practically one step away from being a gigolo. OMG. Perhaps it had been a mistake to hire him for his sister's wedding.
His mother bowed her head.
- Honey, are you okay? You look a little ... pale.
- Oh, it's probably the stress of the marriage that bothered me. How is Emily? - She said eager to change the subject.
- She and Peter are already on Martha's Vineyard. I guess her parents are taking care of a lot of the details for her. She said Peter booked her a date at the spa to help her relax.
Janet smiled. Her sister had found a gem of a man.
- Peter is so good. I hope your marriage lasts.
- Janet! Of course, it will last. Why would you think otherwise? Are you influenced by what Gloria said the other day?
- I try not to be influenced by anything he says or does Gloria - grimaced.
But in truth what her cousin had said about the curse had touched her. If she wasn't cursed, why couldn't she keep a man's interest alive? She had never been able to meet a boy long enough to fall in love. Even her father, the man she adored and thought felt the same way about her, hadn't considered her a reason to stay.
They were so attached. When she was a child, she would read her fairy tales almost every night, just the two of them. He brought her her favorite chocolate, and she slowly savored each bite as he read, enjoying the attention he gave her. Those were the best and happiest times. Then one day he left. Without a goodbye Without a note.
More or less I trace how men disappeared from her life.
His mother stroked his head.
- I know it's not easy to get along with your cousin, but my brother said that seeing Emily get married first made her a little nervous- And now that you and Mark seem so close, I'm sure she feels the pressure on her even more.
- If this is Gloria under pressure, I'd rather not see her completely stressed out- she murmured.
His mother chuckled.
- Well, let's hope we don't have to find out. And speaking of Mark, you should make him come over tonight, I'd like to meet this special guy.
- Know? Tonight? Oh no, that's not possible - she snapped without thinking.
- Why not?
Yes, Janet. Why not?
- Uh, why - she said, frantically searching for a plausible explanation -. He works and has to go out a lot when he does it at night.
Painful, but not necessarily a lie. Mark could be with another woman right now and for some strange reason, that thought bothered her. Would it have been too unreasonable to ask him to remain a monogamous companion while under contract with her?
- Aren't you going to see your boyfriend before the wedding?
No, if I can help it.
Her mother couldn't have known that she hoped to delay meeting Mark Robbins for as long as possible. But she supposed that if she and Mark were serious, they would find time to meet.
- Uh, yeah. Sure.
- Good. And before he leaves, Mark can certainly spend some time with your mother here. So we can have a good chat. What do you think?
- I think it would be perfect- This was a nightmare from the depths of the night. Then he swallowed. She and Mark still hadn't talked about anything personal about themselves. They still had to match their stories.
I should have seen if Mark was willing to come. It would probably only take thirty minutes of your time. I was sure that he could spend half an hour to make sure this job went smoothly. Oh crap! Should I have paid extra?
- It will be good to meet you before the wedding- Her mother got up.
- And you tell me- she murmured, but she must have said it louder than she thought because her mother gave her a strange look. I mean, it will certainly be good for you to know it - made a shaky laugh -. I'll call you right now.
Janet held up the cell phone in front of her mother, actually pretending to call him. she also put his index finger on the call button, but ...
Too bad she didn't have Mark's number.
Her mother rubbed her hands.
- I'll put the wine in the fridge. Do you prefer it red or white?
Janet stifled a cry. Unknowingly, her mother was killing her with all these questions about Mark. It was killing her slowly and painfully.
- I don't think it's important, Mom. - At least I hoped it was available.
- Okay, I'll give you some privacy then- Her mother practically flew to the door, then with a bright smile, closed it behind her.
As soon as she heard the doorknob click, she scrolled through her contact list on her phone until she found Steffy's number. I was hoping this little extra "service" he was going to ask for wasn't a problem. It was too late to regret it, she needed to make this seem like a real relationship between them. He wished Mark weren't already reserved.
Without wasting another second, he hit the select button and waited for Steffy to respond, wondering if that was what losing his mind felt like.
- You're late - was all she said by way of greeting.
Mark looked at his cell phone. He had arrived a minute before the time Steffy had told him to go to Janet's house. Then he inhaled deeply.
What you have to endure for the family. Janet and Steffy were very lucky that all she had to do tonight was bathe her dog, otherwise, she would not have been on the doorstep of this woman about to play the role of a devoted boyfriend.
However, when Janet opened the door, her appearance made up for her bitter demeanor. Her blonde hair was tied up in a low ponytail and she was wearing a sleeveless pink dress with white sandals, Janet looked beautiful and smelled sweet like one of those little cakes her mother always served during tea with her friends. Janet was the quintessential girl next door. The one he had always ignored throughout the school. She had never been his type. However, he couldn't deny the fact that Janet Campbell was a classic beauty.
He slipped the cell phone into his pocket and spread his arms.
- Is this the way to greet your beloved boyfriend?
She gave him a look that could easily have taken down the best defender.
- Shut up and come in. We need to discuss a few things before my mom ...
- Here it is - said a woman in a singsong voice -. The man of the moment.
- Oh Mom - She looked nervously at his mother to him -. Yes, this is Mark. Um ... voila!
Janet's mother was young, perhaps in her fifties. She was attractive, with straight blond hair that brushed her shoulders, and she had a slender figure like her daughter. She reached over and took his hand firmly in hers.
- It's a real pleasure meeting you.
Mark smiled back.
- Anyway - And he was serious. Janet's mother seemed like a sweet woman, who loved and cared for her daughter. Very different from his mother who had ignored him for most of his life, until he became a college football star and could show off to anyone he met.
For her, natural childbirth meant giving birth without makeup and her father was not far from this belief. His parents hadn't even been around him when he had the accident at university. Only Steffy had given him the moral support he needed during his recovery and subsequent decision to quit soccer. She would never forget him, so she would do anything for her cousin, even pretend to be the boyfriend of a slightly neurotic blonde who seemed to hate him.
- My little daughter clever you've been hiding for quite some time - her mother said with a smile.
Mark raised an eyebrow and looked at Janet, who paled at her mother's comment.
- Yes, our Janet is smarter than you think. You might be surprised to know some of the things I've seen her do recently.
Janet slipped her arm through his and stealthily dug her thumbnail into his bicep.
- Now honey, there is no need to decipher our secrets- she said through clenched teeth.
- Oh come on- he said, stroking her hand. There should be no secrets in the family, right?
Janet's eyes widened and he bit back a laugh. Yes, he most likely tormented this poor girl during school, but he still couldn't resist having fun with her. It had been too long since she had been able to laugh so freely. And after all, he liked her exuberance.
Two angry blue eyes stared at him.
- Well, if you tell the secrets, I could also tell some. I like your story with the viagra.
His mother cleared her throat and nearly choked.
- You know, now might be a good time to have a glass of wine- He made a face, then turned and headed down the hall.
Janet rushed to follow her, but he grabbed her hand and pulled her back.
- Not so fast. What history with Viagra?
- What? You were the funny guy who insisted that you get hired for Emily's wedding. Besides, it was the first thing that came to mind when I looked at you - he said with a satisfied smile.
- Thank you very much. But you gave your mother the idea that I have performance issues.
- Better. He'll think I'm not with you just because of your physique - She shrugged.
- Good, but from now on I prefer you to be a little more superficial.
- Like all the cheerleaders you dated in high school?
- Ah - he said, moving a derisive finger at her - I knew it! Since when did we go from dating to having a stable relationship in less than twenty-four hours? You're the jealous type.
- Listen, don't try to be funny. It's not too late to say goodbye.
Mark was tempted to tease her for this, even though by the end of the day his time was up. Unless you wanted to show up at your sister's wedding without a partner. But he doubted it a lot considering all this great ruse he had prepared. She wisely decided to keep her mouth shut and keep the peace for her cousin's sake.
- As you wish, boss.
Janet looked at him with suspicious eyes.
- Okay then. This shouldn't take long. I told my mom that we would have a drink with her. Just follow what I say and pretend we've been dating for six months, then when I touch my watch, you have to say we have to go to the restaurant because we booked for dinner. Do you think you can do it?
I can do whatever you want with you, Mark's mind suggested. Then he gave his hormones a quick mental spin. What the hell? He had to think of it as a job. A favor for your cousin and a business matter. That was it.
But his gaze still traveled to her pink dress, her white arms, and her elegant neck, ending in her beautiful face, albeit with an annoying air, framed by long blonde waves.
- Mark, did you hear me?
- Huh? Oh yes, I can do it very well.
- No, I said that in case my mother asks what restaurant we are going to, you have to say The Stardance.
She quickly snapped out of the dream about Janet and put her working expression on her face. At least he had to try to look professional.
- Sure. Stardance. I get it.
She looked at him for a long time before nodding.
- Are you okay?
- Of course - And it was true. He might find Janet Campbell an attractive woman, but that didn't mean he wanted to get seriously involved with her. She seemed like a woman projected towards marriage and that was something that did not interest her.
At least not anymore.
Nicole had taught him that all those promises of everlasting love didn't mean much. It was a nice talk. Also, now was not the time to add complications to his life when he should have been concentrating on his gyms. And even though he hardly knew Janet, he had a feeling that "complicated" was her middle name.
He offered her his arm.
- We're going to question your mother.
She hesitated for a moment and then slipped her arm under his.
- Remember, I lead, you follow me.
- Okay, but when we dance at the wedding, I will lead and you will follow.
He sighed theatrically.
- I think I can agree with that.
- You see? I have the feeling that we are at the beginning of a beautiful fake relationship.
Janet bit her lower lip as they walked together into the kitchen.
- I'm glad at least one of us thinks this way.