You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.
Samantha Jones'beat-up Volkswagen Bug was one perfect place to cry. It was small, confining, and with all her worldly possessions packed inside, it hugged her like a warm pair of grandmotherly arms.
She should have known Mr. Antonio would fire her if he caught her napping in the back room at Antonio's For Men. But she'd been so tired-tired of sleeping in the bug, tired of working too many hours for people who didn't appreciate her, tired of trying to earn enough money to pay off Johnnie Russo-so tired that she hadn't cared if she got caught. All she'd wanted to do was sleep.
Sam sniffed back a tear as she concentrated on the blurry, palm tree-lined road and the cars whizzing by her slow-moving bug. She willed herself not to think about being unemployed. She didn't want to think about Johnnie, the money she owed him, or the fact that "Jaws," as Johnnie was affectionately known in loan-shark circles, had painted her a very vivid picture of what would happen if she didn't abide by the terms of their contract, which expired in four weeks and two days.
She didn't want to relive all that had happened five months ago. She needed to watch the road, to think about what she was doing now, but the memories flooded her thoughts. In the space of six horrid days, she'd lost everything: years of savings, her pride, and the most cherished person in her life--her mama.
How easily she could see Mama lying in the hospital, her cheeks sunken, dark circles surrounding her eyes. Sam remembered holding her mother's frail fingers,wishing some of her own energy for life could seep through her mother's skin; but she'd already lost the will to go on.
The doctors at the county hospital, where the poor and downtrodden were treated, said they'd done all they could possibly do. Surgery had repaired her internal injuries, but the
chaplain told Sam the doctors couldn't do anything for an injured soul.
Sam had refused to listen. She'd already used her savings looking for a doctor who'd give her some positive news, so she'd gone to Graham Welles, an acquaintance who'd once said he'd move the sun and the moon for her. But Graham had added an addendum when Sam needed him most: he'd give her anything, but he wanted her in return.
Sam remembered the rage in Graham's eyes just before she'd run away from his home, She fingered the scar on her jaw, remembering the flash of his diamond ring when he'd struck her across the face. She'd nearly sold her soul to Graham Welles, but at the last moment she'd realized that wouldn't save her mama. Nothing could bring back the life that had been wasting away for years.
Later that night, the chaplain came again. The somber man walked into the hospital room not too long after Mama had died. He'd offered a prayer for Mama's soul, telling God that Felicity Jones might have been a prostitute-his voice lowering to a whisper when he uttered the word-but she'd had a heart of gold. He'd put a comforting hand on Sam's shoulder, and then he'd talked with her about options, emphasizing cremation because it was the cheapest way to go.
Sam could remember the look of shock on the minister's face, when she laughed and told him, "My mama's entire life has been scattered on the wind. I don't care how much it costs. I don't even care how I get the money, but my mama's going to have a place where she can put down roots, a place she can live forever, even if her final home is nothing more than a few square feet of dirt and grass."
That's when Johnnie Russo had come into the picture.
She stopped at an intersection when the light turned red and wiped a tear from her eye. Johnnie Russo. She shook her head at her foolishness. She was too street-smart to go to a man with a reputation like Johnnie's, but she'd tried borrowing from the bank, from friends, from high-rate loan companies, and heard the same refrains everywhere she turned: your credit's not good enough; you have no assets; sorry, Sam, but I'm just as broke as you are. Johnnie hadn't cared about assets. He said he trusted her, and she'd fallen for his sympathetic line, which shifted dramatically right after the funeral, when he'd told her the initial payment was due in a month. The first late charge would be a broken arm.
She'd stayed in Southern California long enough to make the first installment on the
loan, and then she'd run away from Hollywood, from an acting career that had gone nowhere, from friends who'd been nothing more than acquaintances, from memories of her mother's tragic death. She thought she could start again in West Palm Beach, the town where she'd grown up.
But she'd finally destroyed any chance for a new life when she'd stolen the sewing machine from Mr. Antonio a few minutes ago.
A horn blared behind her, and Sam shifted into first and the bug crept up the road. She wished she could shift thoughts as easily, but the sewing machine was in plain view, and her guilt couldn't be pushed aside. She hadn't planned to steal it, but the opportunity had jumped at her when she was heading out of Antonio's For Men with the last of her belongings. She shouldn't have answered the phonethat was Mr. Antonio's job. She shouldn't have told the concierge from the Breakers that An- tonio's would be honored to provide a tux for Jack Remington, the wealthy owner of the Remington Steakhouses. She'd planned to give Mr. Antonio the message, but when she'd interrupted him and the client he was working with, he'd made it perfectly clear he never wanted to hear from her again.
Stealing had been foolish-and wrong. But she'd promised the concierge that the job... Wife for a Day
. Copyright © by Patti Berg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.