Rent A HusbandBy: Sally Mason
“Love is a game in which one always cheats.”
Honore de Balzac
Glimpsing herself in the mirror at the Book & Bean, Darcy Pringle feels happier than she has in the year since . . .
No need to go there now and ruin her day.
You look good, girl.
Well, girl may be stretching things (she’s nudging thirty-six, after all) but—that all important but—she doesn’t look it.
She’s been away for a month, at a very exclusive spa being pampered and massaged and detoxed, spending her days sipping health drinks, trying not to gape at the freakishly tall supermodels tripping around, all skittish and gawky off the runway.
Yes, looking good, ready for the night that for the last decade has been the highlight of her year: the Spring Ball, a charity event sponsored by Darcy and Porter Pringle.
Once upon a time Mr. and Mrs. Pringle.
But no longer.
Seeing a frown line creasing her forehead, Darcy banishes that thought.
Let go, let go, let go . . .
Darcy hums the little mantra to herself, taking a deep breath.
She will enjoy the Ball she has worked tirelessly to organize. True, it’ll be her first year going solo with no Porter to lean on, but she’ll do it.
Yes, she will.
Darcy smiles at herself, her good humor restored, pleased—again—at how rejuvenated she looks.
Then a face appears in the mirror beside hers.
A young face.
A very young, very beautiful face framed by a froth of raven hair.
And a third face fills the looking glass, an all-too familiar one and Darcy stares at the tanned features of the man she woke up beside for a decade and a half.
“Darce,” her ex-husband says, “great to see you.”
When Poor Billy Bigelow tries to save Darcy Pringle he does what he always does: he blunders—snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, as his late father, a sour and unsightly man, would have said.
His father has gone to his reward, but he lives on at full volume in Poor Billy’s head.
Every town has a Billy Bigelow, a lightning rod for bad luck. In his mid-thirties, he’s never been called William (or even the more manly Bill), he’s always Poor Billy Bigelow, those three words like a little train of humiliation chugging through his life.
So, when he reversed his battered old station wagon into a parking bay outside his bookstore cum coffee shop and scraped a fender on a fire hydrant, that was nothing new.
His bad driving was legendary, the whole town knew of the tragic events that unfolded that day when he was sixteen, the proud owner of a newly-minted driver’s license and took his mother and little sister Winona out for a drive.
But that, as they say, is another story.
Unloading a box of books from the rear of the station wagon, Billy saw Darcy Pringle crossing the main drag of Santa Sofia, a vision of loveliness in the buttery Californian light, even more beautiful now than when they were at high school together.
Raising a hand to wave at Darcy, Billy forgot that he was carrying the box, lost his grip and took a painful blow to the foot, paperbacks spilling onto the asphalt.
Fortunately Darcy, gliding into the bookstore, didn’t see him.
Kneeling, recovering the scattered books, Poor Billy watched as a gleaming new Mercedes slid effortlessly into the bay behind his car and tall, broad-shouldered Porter Pringle stood up out of it, still as athletic as when he was the high school’s star quarterback.
Porter opened the passenger door and guided a young woman out and Billy saw something that caused his jaw, and the books he had gathered, to drop.
By the time Poor Billy blinked, did a double-take, and then realized he really was seeing what he thought he’d seen, Porter and his new bride had disappeared into the bookstore, and Billy knew that the town—still scandalized by Porter dumping his high school sweetheart for a trophy wife—would soon be buzzing about how Darcy was confronted with this new bombshell in the most public and humiliating way.
How was Poor Billy Bigelow planning to rescue Darcy?
He didn’t know, but he knew he must do something.
Darcy turns from the mirror and looks up into the eyes of her ex-husband.
“You remember Paige,” he says, pointing toward Darcy’s replacement, the once-upon-a-time personal assistant (make that very personal) who is the new Mrs. Pringle.
“How could I forget?” Darcy says, knowing she has to take charge here.
“What a pleasure to see you, Darcy,” Paige says with an unconvincing smile.
“Yes, a wonderful surprise,” Darcy says. “Porter, I thought you were off counting your money in the Caymans or wherever?”
Porter shrugs. “Well, even though I don’t live up here any more, Santa Sofia is still my home town and I wanted to share the good news with all the old gang.”
“Good news?” Darcy asks.
“And we wanted you to be the first to know,” the child bride says, touching Darcy on the shoulder, and when Darcy looks down to assess the size of the rock on the ring finger she sees something that robs her of her breath: she’s sees a bump.
Not just any bump, a four-months-gone bump.
She’s staring at the girl’s midriff, and Porter—Port, darling, honey, lover man—lays a proud hand on the bump, lays a hand on the one thing that Darcy (accomplished, witty, smart, stylish Darcy) could never give him.