Contracted: A Wife for the Bedroom

By: Carol Marinelli


CHAPTER ONE




‘SMILE!’

Using the rear-view mirror to paint on her lipstick, Lily could almost hear her childhood ballet teacher’s affected tones calling out for her to look happy and relaxed as she performed some excruciatingly painful manoeuvre.

And tonight’s group session was going to be excruciating—happy and positive were the absolute last things she felt this evening. Even an hour spent in front of the mirror, sweeping her blonde hair back in a smart French roll, carefully applying her make-up and dressing in her most snappy navy suit hadn’t enabled Lily to muster the confident air that usually surrounded her. No amount of power dressing was going to save her tonight! The only thing she had to show for weeks spent wrestling with banks, real-estate agents and mortgage brokers was a pounding headache and the appalling realisation that, this time, she couldn’t protect her mother.

Now she had to go in there, into the community centre, and imbue confidence, try to convince these people that they could be anything they wanted to be, could attain any goal, if only they truly set their minds to it.

She felt like a charlatan.

Dabbing a touch of concealer on a tiny pimple on her chin, Lily wished that life was so easy—that she could wave her magic wand and make problems disappear. Only problems didn’t disappear, Lily thought darkly, watching as, despite fifty dollars a dab, her pimple shone through.

Slipping off her silver thongs, Lily rummaged on the passenger floor for a pair of high-heeled sandals, slipping her feet in and doing up the thready laces, wishing she were actually taking them off—wishing that this day, this night was well and truly over.

Not that they weren’t divine.

A mere inch of suede had somehow been crafted into the softest, most divine of foot couture—accentuating her duskily painted toe-nails—the spiky heels magically elongating her ankles, somehow adding that extra oomph Lily so badly needed tonight.

‘Come on, shoes,’ Lily whispered, feeling a touch like Dorothy clicking her heels. ‘Do your stuff.’

Thick, heavy dots of rain hitting her windscreen dragged her out of her introspection and Lily knew that if she didn’t want being drenched to add to her woes, then hiding in her car wasn’t an option. The end of a long hot sultry spell that had hit Melbourne was, according to the forecast, about to be broken by a storm. Dashing across the car park, Lily just made it into the centre before the rain took hold, and as she stepped inside and saw her clients waiting for her, some standing alone and nervous-looking, as if they might flee at any moment, some mingling in groups, drinking the questionable coffee all turned to greet her as she entered. Lily’s smile wasn’t as false as she’d anticipated—she felt genuinely glad to see the familiar and new faces of people who were looking to her to help them change their lives.

‘Good evening, everyone.’ Lily glanced up at the clock, glad to see that she was ahead of schedule. ‘Carry on chatting among yourselves for a while. I’m a little early so we’ll give everyone a chance to get here before we start.’

Pulling paperwork out of her briefcase, Lily did a brief head count, ticking off the names on her list and putting out self-help brochures for the group to take away if they wished. She smiled warmly as a very new, very nervous, participant entered the room. Blushing and painfully shy, the newcomer blinked as she looked around the room, wringing her hands nervously as she stood there, and Lily’s heart went out to the stranger. She admired the huge step this woman was taking by coming tonight and immediately crossed the room to welcome her.

‘My name’s Lily,’ she said warmly, offering her hand. ‘Welcome to New Beginnings.’

‘Amanda,’ came the nervous reply. ‘I didn’t know if I needed an appointment.’

‘Not here,’ Lily said. ‘I just need you to fill in a form and then you can grab a coffee and start getting to know a few people—we really are a very friendly lot!’

Helping Amanda through the form took a little while longer than normal. Amanda, as Lily found out, had recently lost a huge amount of weight, followed by her marriage, followed by the little confidence she’d possessed, but Lily could tell that behind the shy façade was a very strong woman and one Lily couldn’t wait to see emerge.

‘Right, that’s all the paperwork done.’ Taking the clipboard from Amanda, Lily was about to suggest that she get a drink when her attention was caught by the door opening—well, not so much the door opening, more the man that was coming through it!

Her first thought was that he must be lost.

He didn’t look lost—anything other than that but men like the one appearing in the doorway did not belong at a self-help group meeting at the local community centre.

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