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Chapter One

“I know this must seem unusual, Miss Clayton, but I assure you it is necessary.”

“Why on earth would you tell your Grandmother that you were dating someone and engaged…?” Charity demanded, not sure she wanted to accept the acting job in spite of the fact she really needed the money it would pay.

“Because I am stupid…?” the handsome man replied with a self-deprecating smile.  “Seriously, Miss Clayton, when I did that my Gram was very ill, and she was not expected to live.  She begged my sister and I both to find someone to love and marry, and Ginger confessed to having a boyfriend, and that the relationship was serious.  In the next breath I was telling Gram the same thing, that my girlfriend and I were discussing moving in together… with every intention of it leading to marriage within a year or two.  Thankfully, Gram slowly got better and stronger… but I haven’t had the nerve to admit that I lied to her.  Ginger is bringing her fiancé home to Gram’s estate for the holidays, and I was practically ordered to bring along my fiancée as well.  I need you, Miss Clayton.  Gram is ninety-five years old, and disappointing her at this stage could very well bring on another serious heart attack.  The Doctors have told us that her heart is very weak, and both Ginger and I love her and would do anything for her.  Please tell me you’ll take the job.  I promise I will make it worth your time and efforts.”

“I’ll do it,” Charity reluctantly answered, but then added, “However, my services do not include any funny business.  You put one hand on me and I will be out of there so fast your head will spin.”

“I give you my word, Miss Clayton.  I promise I will not touch you… other than what is necessary to convince Gram we are engaged.  That cannot be avoided.”

“Do not cross the line, Mr.  Hayes,” she warned once again. 

“You have my solemn word,” he replied, his blue eyes earnest .

Charity nodded, and then left his law offices, where the interview took place, to take the subway to her neighborhood.  She felt as though she was sinking to an all-time low by agreeing to pose as Gardiner Hayes fiancée.  If what he said was true about his grandmother, she could understand his not wanting to upset her when her health was so precarious, but what about his sister…?  And the rest of his family…?  How could she keep up a pretense for the two weeks that she was a guest in his grandmother’s home? It would take what little acting ability she possessed, and based on the fact that she didn’t seem to be able to find another acting job anywhere in the city, she was starting to doubt her decision to change careers.

That thought brought on another case of “I-feel-sorry-for-myself” and she dabbed her eyes with a tissue.  Charity had no family left.  Her parents were older when they had her, and they died when she was still in high school.  Her brother Cal finished raising her, but he was gone now, too, and she was all alone in the world.  She needed the money the two week gig would bring her, and that was the bottom line.  Like it or lump it, she would be Gardiner Hayes fiancée, even though she wasn’t physically attracted to blonde hair and blue eyes.  Her personal preferences didn’t matter at this point.

Unlike so many other actresses who were out of work, she was not able to wait tables.  She’d tried it, and her terrible temper did not make for good tips.  She recalled the last wait job she’d had, and the customer who was so rude that she dumped a plate of spaghetti and meatballs over the top of his head.  The owner fired her on the spot, of course, and she didn’t blame him.  But, the jerk deserved it, and she wouldn’t apologize even if she was promised a hefty check for doing so.  Nothing would make her that desperate, she promised herself with a spunky grin. No, waiting tables was not an option for her, so she needed to do this type of acting if she hoped to survive another few weeks in the city.

Charity finally reached her stop, and stayed alert as she briskly walked the several blocks to her apartment.  As she feared, the building supervisor was watching for her and ran out of his basement apartment to confront her as she started up the long trek of stairs to get to her small apartment. 

“Your rent is due, Missy,” he stated belligerently, all puffed up with his self-importance. He’d actually put up an old, dilapidated artificial Christmas tree with a few ornaments and one string of lights in the lobby, and was proud of himself for doing so.  Charity was sure the woman who delivered their mail would have loved to strangle him for partially blocking the mailboxes she needed to deliver mail to, but did that matter to Davis?  No, he was too busy preening! “Well?” he demanded, sticking his belly out at her.

“Yes, Mr. Davis, I know the rent is due.  I will have it soon.”

“How soon?  You know I could rent that apartment to someone else for twice what you are paying!”

She doubted it, but this was New York, and all things were possible. “I will have the money soon, I promise.”  She was acting now, pretending that she was truly sorry she couldn’t pay him right this minute.

“I will give you one week, and no more!” he yelled, shaking his stubby finger at her.

If he wasn’t so pitiful she would laugh at him, but, she reminded herself, it would not do to get on his bad side.  She might need a favor from him someday! Still, he made her furious.  This was the first time she’d been late with her rent in the six months she’d lived in the building! “One week; fine.”  When he continued to try and intimidate her, Charity glared at him until he turned away and headed down to his apartment.  “’Tis the season to be jolly… fa la la la lah!” she grumbled, climbing the steep steps.  She closed her eyes as she reached the fourth floor, deciding that it just was not her day!

“Poor Charity!  I heard what that fat slob said to you…!  I will give you the money,” Angus Leftle said in his raspy voice.”

“Yes, Angus, I know.  You’ll give me the money if I let you in my pants, right?” She put her key in her lock, careful to keep an eye on the man.  He was sneaky, and he moved quickly.

“You can’t expect something for nothing,” he insisted.  “Would it be so terrible, honey?” he asked, stepping in her direction.

“Yes, it would be terrible,” Charity answered without hesitation.  “I don’t want your money, Mr. Leftle.”  She opened her door, stepped inside, and quickly shut the door and double locked it.  She’d accidentally allowed him in her apartment one day and then had to fight him off.  For an old man, he was pretty strong.  He smelled strong, too!

Charity sighed, and then decided she needed to start packing for the two week trip to Vermont.  She had a few nice clothes that she wore to auditions and such, and Gardiner had promised to cover any expenses she had.  She was sorting through her closet when the buzzer at the front door called for her attention.  She very nearly ignored it, but for some reason she couldn’t explain, she thought it might be for her.  She pushed the intercom button and said, “Yes?”

“Miss Clayton, I have a delivery for you.”

“Who is it from?” she asked, wary of strangers.

“Gardiner Hayes,” the voice replied.

“Okay,” she answered, then hit the button to release the lock on the door of the building.  She waited by her door, and it wasn’t long before a young man showed up carrying a box.  She opened the door and signed for the package, remembering to give the man a tip, even though she couldn’t really afford to give away her money.  It was the holiday season… even if she didn’t feel especially merry.  She allowed her door to shut and she made sure the locks were engaged before she put the large package on her old sofa.  “What on earth is this?” she asked herself, and then she got a knife from the kitchen and sliced through the tape to open the box.  Moments later she was looking at enough clothing to see her through the next two weeks.  The note inside said, “Miss Clayton… Charity… I knew you wouldn’t come to me and ask me for anything, so I went shopping for you.  I hope these will all fit, and please know that I intend for you to keep them.  These dresses and other items will fit the things I have told Gram about you.  Please accept them with my huge thanks for agreeing to help me out of my predicament.  Sincerely, Gard.

Charity was amazed at the clothing he’d purchased for her, and even more amazed that he wanted her to have the wardrobe!  She tried on each and every item, and was stunned when they all fit her to perfection.  She decided that Gardiner Hayes had to be a ladies’ man, but the female inside of her loved the new clothes, and the fact that each garment was chosen with her red hair and green eyes in mind.  Charity was more confident now that she would fit in with Gardiner’s fancy relatives, and she decided to get into character so that she could pretend to be in love with the handsome lawyer.

*****

There was so much work that needed to be done before the holidays that Reid was pretty sure he would be working overtime while his employees took the time off to be with their families.  He’d learned that it was better to simply give them the time off because their minds wouldn’t be on work anyway.  With the offices quiet, he could get more done than he normally did.  Still, it was growing late and his stomach was growling and reminding him that he’d skipped lunch… and breakfast.  Reid grabbed his coat, put it on, flipped the light switch to ‘off’ and started down the hallway to the front offices.  That is when he heard a female crying!  No one should be here at this time of night, so he proceeded cautiously, heading toward the sound.  If one of his employees had trouble of some sort, then he wanted to know so that he could help.  He finally traced the sound to Ginger Hayes office, and he was stunned to see her sobbing her heart out.  She had her hands over her eyes, and her head resting on her desk. He immediately wanted to help her fix whatever was wrong, and if it was humanly possible to do so, he would.

“Ginger, what’s wrong?” he asked softly, not wanting to startle her.

“Oh, I didn’t think anyone else was here!” she exclaimed, obviously embarrassed as she sat straight up and reached for a tissue to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

“What is wrong?  Are you injured or ill?” Reid asked, looking her over as if searching for possible injuries.  Ginger was much too thin, and he knew that it was because she was always at her desk, working.  She seldom went out for lunch, and he suspected she skipped dinner, too.

“I’m fine,” she insisted.

“You are not fine.  You were crying as if the world was falling apart.  Tell me,” he sternly ordered.

“You wouldn’t understand?”

“How do you know that?”

“Because you would never get yourself into such a stupid predicament,” she wailed.  “I just don’t know what to do now!”

“Start at the beginning, and I will help if I can.”

“Really?” Ginger asked, looking at him hopefully.

“Tell me now, and no more stalling.”

“Do you recall when I took some time off to go home to Vermont because Gram was so ill…?”

“Yes, I do.  The doctors thought she was dying, but she pulled through.” He remembered well how upset she was when she received the telephone call requesting her to come home to Vermont.  He had to make the arrangements for her because she was too upset to do so for herself.  It was the longest period of time she’d taken off of work since she started with the company.

“Yes, she did, and now I am singlehandedly going to kill her!” Ginger dramatically declared, bursting into tears again.

“What?”  Reid was shocked, and he felt like shaking the young woman.  “Ginger, you straighten up and talk to me right now.  I want to know what is going on.”

“I lied to her when she was sick, Reid.  I told her that I was in love and engaged to a wonderful man.  She’s insisted that both my brother and I bring home our significant others for a two week holiday at her home.  She wants to meet his fiancée.. and my fiancé! The only thing is I don’t have a fiancé!”

“You lied to your grandmother?” Reid couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He despised lies.

“I did, but I only wanted to give her peace when I thought she was dying.  She was so upset over my being single that I thought it might help if she thought I was engaged.  The lie just slipped out before I gave it due thought, and now I am afraid the shock of my telling her the truth would kill her!  I just don’t know what to do; I thought about calling Gard and asking his advice, but he would think me a silly little girl!”  She looked at Reid, and then confessed, “There is more.”

“What?” he asked, although he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“I described you as my fiancé,” Ginger whispered.  “I even told her your name, and said that I worked for you.  I’m so sorry, Reid!”

“I don’t like lies, Ginger Hayes.”

She nodded, but refused to look up and meet his eyes.

“I’ve a good mind to turn you over my knee and show you just how much I hate lies!”

“You wouldn’t!” the blonde exclaimed, and it was her biggest mistake of the day. Reid did not like dares any more than he liked lies, maybe even less!

“As your fiancé, young lady, I would most certainly dare.”  He pulled her out of her desk chair and over his knee and across the desk in her office.  His hand landed on the seat of her skirt and she cried out in shock and pain.

“No, Reid!  I didn’t do it to cause trouble for you!  Honest!”  He spanked her again and Ginger started crying again.  His hand hurt, even through her skirt and panties underneath, and she resigned herself to the punishment he felt she deserved.  After several more hearty spanks, she said, “I’m sorry!  I know that lying is wrong, and I never should have used your name, but you are the only man I know that Gram would find acceptable!  I’m so sorry!”

“Are you positive that telling her the truth now would hurt her?” Reid wanted to know.

“Yes!  She is not well, Reid.  I couldn’t bear for her to have another heart attack because she is so disappointed in me!   I would simply make up an excuse and not go home this year, but this could very well be her last Christmas, and I want to be with her.  What am I going to do?” 

Reid spanked her again, hard, and then stood her on her feet.  “When are we leaving for Vermont?” he asked in resignation.

“You’re coming with me?” she asked in amazement.  “You’ll pretend to be my fiancé?”

“I’ll do it, young lady, but you’d best make sure that no one here finds out about this,” he growled, giving her bottom another sound spank.  “When are we leaving?”

 


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