Purchased Husband by Noelle Adams

One




THERE COMES A DAY IN a girl’s life when she realizes her prince is likely to be a no-show. It feels like crap when the revelation hits, but it can turn out to be a good thing. A girl can still have everything she wants and needs. Once she’s no longer waiting around for someone else to save her from her life, she can go out and get it for herself.

That day came for me earlier than most. The mean girls in my middle school had spent weeks laughing about how no one was going to ask a loser like me to the fall dance. I didn’t want to believe them, but they were right. No one wanted to go with me. Since I wasn’t about to give the mean girls a victory, I paid a neighbor boy from a different school all the money I’d saved up (forty-three dollars) to be my escort.

I still remember that evening with a smile—the look on those girls’ faces when I showed up with a moderately cute boy on my arm. Right now I need the same strategy to work again.

I am Melody Clarke. Twenty-nine years old. Only child of a single mother. Lauded by tech magazines a couple of years ago as the next big thing. And in need of a husband.

Not a real one. All I need is an empty suit for six months to avoid some possible family conflict. With no convenient potentials available, I’ve had to resort to my middle school tactics. Fortunately, the perfect company for hiring fake husbands exists in Atlanta, and I have enough money to afford one.

My contact at Companions for Hire is Aurora Kensington. I’m on the phone with her now as I sit in a rental car in the parking lot of the restaurant where I’m supposed to meet my mom in ten minutes.

“Damian is all set to meet you tomorrow afternoon,” Aurora says with the pleasant professionalism that has made this whole process easy for me. “He’s pulled back on jobs for us lately because he’s focusing on his graduate degree, but he’s one of the best we have, and he thought this job sounded like a good one. I think he’s just what you’re looking for. All the clients who’ve worked with him have been very happy.”

“That sounds good.” I’m scrolling through email as I talk since multitasking is my normal mode of operation. “Like I said, I don’t really care if he’s hot or charming or impressive. I just need someone to fill the role in the simplest way possible.”

“He can do that. He’s been with us a long time, and he knows what he’s doing. But I do think you’ll like him. Everyone does.”

I have my doubts about that claim, but I don’t bother to argue. I like Aurora, and there’s no reason to get into a discussion with her about the fact that I rarely like the people that everyone else does.

I’m not into popular people. I wasn’t in school when I was the target of endless teasing, and I’m not now. If someone is too slick, too charming, too admired, too much, I’ll always be suspicious of what’s really going on beneath the surface. I’ve seen photos of Damian, and I can tell already that he’s too much for me.

The truth is I’ve always preferred outcasts and losers. Maybe because that’s how I’ve always felt.

“I’m sure he’s great,” I tell Aurora noncommittally. “Thanks for setting it up.”

“If you end up not liking him, we’ve got plenty more companions you could use instead.”

“I’m sure Damian will be fine. I’m not planning to be picky about this. As long as he’s easy to work with, I’m good.”

“He will be. He’s always professional. Just tell him what you need and he’ll do it.”

For just a moment, I wonder how far Damian would go for his clients. Companions for Hire offers companions for a huge range of needs and situations—dates, travel escorts, fake boyfriends or girlfriends, expert tour guides, you name it—but they’re up-front about sex being off the table. In fact, if you ask about it, they’ll immediately end the conversation. It’s one of the reasons I chose to work with them. I’m not looking for sex, and this way there will be none of the awkwardness of a regular escort agency.

But I can’t believe sex doesn’t happen. From what Aurora told me, some of these companions are experts at providing romantic experiences. My guess would be that sex occurs from time to time even if Companions for Hire never hears about it.

If sex was what I wanted, I could get it in other ways. Right now I just need a fake husband, and I’ve got an appointment to meet him tomorrow afternoon.

First, however, I need to get through lunch with my mother. Which means I’ll have to lie to her for the first time in years.





I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD when I discovered I’m an excellent liar.

It was a Saturday morning in a drugstore with my mother. She was waiting to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, and I was roaming the candy aisle. It all looked so good. My mother only occasionally bought me candy, so it was a genuine treat. I wanted some that morning. Other kids got it all the time, and it wasn’t fair that I didn’t. No one was around.

So I took it.

I grabbed a big chocolate bar and a string of gumballs I’d seen the other kids eat. I was carrying a little purple purse, so I just stuffed them in and zipped it up.

I was breathless and on edge as I returned to where my mother was waiting for her prescription.

“What’s going on?” she asked when she saw me.