Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Warren
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Jane Stanford got married on Friday. She celebrated by taking her best friend Alicia Margolin out to dinner.
Jane watched in amusement as Alicia drooled over the chalkboard specials. They were at the chicest new seafood
restaurant in Vancouver's trendy Yaletown.
"I'm starving. I heard this place is fabulous, but Chuck's too cheap to bring me here," Alicia complained, gazing at
the black ceiling hung with industrial steel lighting, the leather-covered walls, terra-cotta-tile floor and polished
cedar tables as though committing them to memory. "Wait till I tell him you treated me to dinner here. Are we
celebrating that you don't have to work with me anymore?"
Jane smiled mischievously. "We're celebrating all right, but not that."
Alicia's eyes widened. "You got a new job?"
"Not yet." Jane's stomach dropped and her appetite deserted her. She wasn't here to dwell on the past, she reminded
herself. She was taking steps to ensure a successful future.
As though she were a magician, Jane flourished her left hand in front of Alicia's face. On the fourth finger glowed a
thick gold band inset with diamonds.
"I got married."
"Whaaat?" The restaurant's noise level dropped as curious heads turned to stare at the shrieking Alicia. Lowering her
voice to a frantic whisper, she demanded, "When? Why didn't I know anything about it? How could you not invite me? I'm
your best friend? And ..." Alicia stopped for a breath and then a puzzled expression spread across her face. "Who the
hell is he?"
Jane decided to answer the last, and most important question, first. "He's the best husband in the world." She leaned
back, swirling wine in her glass as she contemplated the utter perfection of her spouse. "He never leaves the toilet
seat up or drops dirty clothes around the house. He doesn't drink, gamble or smoke." She glanced at Alicia and couldn't
help adding, "He encourages me to buy anything I want."
"Come on." Alicia snorted. "No such guy exists."
Jane smiled in pure bliss. "Exactly."
"What do you mean, "exactly"?"
"I got the idea after I got fired," Jane began.
"Look, honey, you got a rotten break. Your self-esteem's taken a beating. But if you married that guy Owen who spends
all his time with fish guts -"
"He's a marine biologist and no, I didn't marry Owen. I didn't really marry anyone. I'm pretending to be married."
Alicia waited in barely suppressed impatience as the waiter arrived with their food. She hardly glanced at her plate
and waved away an offer of fresh-ground pepper. When he'd moved on she said, "Have you lost your mind?"
"No, I haven't." Jane felt the bitterness rise in her throat. "I'm sick of being hassled by jerks like Phil Johnson
just because I'm single and travel a lot on business. Men like Phil consider getting me into bed as a personal
challenge. I've tried assertiveness training, self-defense for women - which is how Johnson got the black eye - I
dress like a nun -"
"It's your looks," Alicia interrupted. "You could be a nun and it wouldn't stop guys from falling for you." She
bit into a prawn. "If I wasn't your best friend, I'd hate you."
"Married women don't get hassled all the time. You don't."
"On second thought, I do hate you."
"Having a husband means I don't have to make up a bunch of lame excuses when I'm not interested in a guy. This way, I
get all the benefits of being married without having a man underfoot all the time. So, what do you think?"
"I think it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard," Alicia said bluntly. "What about the wedding night?"
Jane raised her chin. "This is it."
Alicia's lips curved in a smug grin. "There's one benefit to being married you seem to forget."
"If you mean sex, I can have as much fun watching an old movie on TV, without having to deal with snoring in my ear
Her friend's black curls danced as she shook her head. "What happens when you meet a man who makes your toes curl?"
"I'll go to a podiatrist and get them fixed."
"It's obvious you've never been in love." Alicia's hand flitted across the table to touch Jane's. "Don't do it. There
are still good men out there."
Why did married people always act as if she was deficient? Of course, there were good men out there. There were also
faithful basset hounds and talking parrots. She didn't want any of them.
"I don't want love. I want a career. I want to be taken seriously and allowed to go as far as I can. Between mother
trying to marry me to the 'right people' and all the men I've met in my life, I figure if I was going to fall in love,
I would have by now."
"Can't you see? You're overreacting to getting fired. I still think you should sue for sexual harassment."
Jane sighed, pushing away her half-eaten salmon. "I already talked to my lawyer. Punching Johnson wasn't too smart.
It's called battery or assault or something. If I sue for sexual harassment, he'll claim I beat him up. You know what a
weasel he is. And besides, nobody saw him grab my breast in the elevator, but lots of people saw me hit him."
Alicia chuckled. "He came flying out of that elevator as if somebody'd shot him, blood pouring out his nose. I'll
treasure that memory forever." She sobered quickly. "It's not fair you got fired."
"No. It isn't." She still felt sick at how easily that pervert had sabotaged her career, and at how ready their boss
- their male boss - had been to ignore her side of the story. It wasn't fair. She'd worked so hard, played by the
rules - but they were men's rules. Well, from now on she had a man on her team. Her fictitious husband. "As far as I'm
concerned, the playing field just got more even."
Alicia stared at her as though seriously considering her idea for the first time this evening. Jane felt a stirring of
hope that her best friend would support her, until she saw her shake her head. "It might work if you weren't the worst
liar on the planet."
"I never lie."
"Exactly. For a salesperson, you are so honest it's embarrassing." Her friend chuckled. "Remember when you were
supposed to keep my surprise birthday party a secret?"
"I never told a soul."
The chuckle turned into a snort. "Hon, your face broadcast the news every time you tried to tell me a whopper. Believe
me, you are not cut out to live a double life."
"But this isn't like lying." Well, she supposed it was in a way. "It's only a little white lie. No one can possibly get
hurt because of it. And the benefits far outweigh the obstacles." She thought about how much her career had suffered
because she was single and was more determined than ever to go through with her plan.
Excerpted from Fringe Benefits
by Nancy Warren
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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