Home > The Chaperone

The Chaperone
Author: Noelle Adams





The interview that could change my life is scheduled for three in the afternoon at a small, local coffee shop.

I arrive at 2:44 and have to kill time by making four laps around the block so that I don’t walk in ridiculously early. It’s a wise decision because when I step inside at five minutes before three, I spot the man I’m supposed to meet, and he’s finishing his interview with someone else.

Backing out the door before he notices me, I lurk outside the entrance, pretending to be checking something on my phone.

Long ago, I developed strategies for handling my chronic earliness.

In the five seconds I had to scan Hugh Barrett and the woman he’s currently interviewing, I’m able to make a few assessments.

He looks like he’s in his forties. A businessman in a rumpled but expensive suit. The kind who schedules his day down to the minute and wastes as little time as possible. Surprisingly good-looking but otherwise what I expected.

The woman is younger than me—probably in her early twenties—and she’s gorgeous with shiny dark hair, a dazzling smile, and a sharp sense of fashion and style. Unlike me, she’s typical for Companions for Hire and is probably very popular as a date or escort.

I’ve worked for Companions for Hire for a few months and have only completed three jobs. Clients get to select their companion, and most rich people who are using an agency for a social partner won’t choose a divorced, quiet, and only moderately attractive twenty-seven-year-old. Twice I’ve escorted a sweet old lady to the opera because she doesn’t like to go alone, and once I had dinner with an Italian in his eighties who I’m convinced simply wanted to be seen on the town with a youngish woman and liked my strawberry blond hair.

Not a particularly impressive work record with the company, an Atlanta-based business that’s done very well offering escorts for a fee to meet any need of their clients.

Any need that isn’t sex.

The one thing Companions for Hire doesn’t offer is sex. It’s the only reason I even considered applying to work for them when a friend from the university recommended it to help me with some extra income.

I was shy and bookish as a girl. I was never one of the popular kids in school, and that aspect of my character has never altered. Even after I started college, got married two years later, and tried to build a life for myself as the wife of a successful optometrist, I always faded into the background. No one ever disliked me—except my ex after I told him I wanted a divorce—but no one ever sought me out. I’m not even in my thirties yet, but I’ve always felt older than that.

When clients can choose between me and any number of gorgeous, stylish, charming young women, I’m never going to get a lot of offers.

This job is different, however. Hugh Barrett is looking for a sensible woman to be a kind of companion/chaperone for his teenage daughter on an extended business trip to Italy. My relative attractiveness will be low down on the list of the qualities he’s seeking.

That’s what I assumed anyway. But seeing that other woman he’s interviewing suddenly causes all my insecurities to spiral in a way I hate.

I’ve made it this far, however. It would be silly to turn around and walk away before I’ve even gone through with the interview, especially since this job has the potential to earn me more money than I dreamed was possible at my place in life. So despite the anxious fluttering in my chest, I stare down at my phone until I see the brunette walk out of the coffee shop.

That’s when I step back inside.

Hugh Barrett is checking his phone, but he glances up after a minute. He scans the half-empty coffee shop until his eyes land on where I’m standing near the door.

He raises a hand in an easy greeting, and I make myself smile.

Pretending a confidence I don’t feel, I stride over and extend a hand to him. “Mr. Barrett? I’m Danielle Blankenship.”

“Call me Hugh.” He stands up to shake my hand. He’s got a big hand and a warm grip. Hazel eyes that look grayish in the artificial light. “You’re right on time.”

I discreetly avoid mentioning I got here fifteen minutes ago. “Yes. I’ve never been to this coffee shop before. It looks nice.”

“It’s good, and it’s close to my office. Can I get you a coffee?”

I’ve predicted this question and internally debated how to answer. I don’t feel like a cup of coffee this late in the afternoon, but it will give me something to do with my hands and also provide me a minute to catch my breath and get my bearings after the initial meeting. So I say, “Just a small one. Thank you. Any sort of dark roast. Black.”

Hugh gets up to walk to the counter, and I let out a breath and lean back in my chair.

I made it through the first two minutes. I can make it through the rest of the interview.

If he doesn’t choose me, then he doesn’t choose me. It won’t be the first time I haven’t been chosen.

Even Nick, my ex-husband, never really chose me first.

I watch Hugh as he puts in the order and comes back with a mug. He has an air of being confident, competent, slightly rushed. He really is as attractive as my first impression of him, but it’s more a warm, sexy aura than his actual features, which aren’t traditionally handsome. His forehead is too broad, and his nose is too prominent. His lips are thin, and he’s got a scar slashing through one of his thick eyebrows.

After I accept the coffee he offers me, he says, “Thanks for meeting me.”

“Of course. The job sounds very interesting.”

“It’s weird, I know. But I’m not sure what else to do. Candice could have stayed with my parents for the month I’m gone, but she wants to come with me. It’s her summer break, so there’s no reason not to bring her except she’ll end up being alone all the time I’m working. I don’t want her drifting around a foreign country on her own for hours every day.”

“That makes perfect sense. She’s fifteen?”

“Yes. I wanted to bring my folks with us, and that would take care of the problem, but my dad has been having health issues and can’t travel, and my mom needs to stay with him. And none of the other possibilities in friends or families can leave their lives for a month to come with us.”

His mouth twists in a frustrated expression. I suddenly realize he must have had to justify his choice to hire out for this position over and over again to people he knows. That must be why he’s going into so much detail to explain it to me.

“I think it’s a great option, and Companions for Hire does so much vetting that you can be reasonably sure whoever you hire will be safe and trustworthy.”

His face relaxes. “Yes. I honestly almost canceled the trip because it was becoming such a problem until one of my friends suggested I use Companions for Hire. I’d never even heard of them before.”

My guess is this man has absolutely no issues finding enthusiastic dates whenever he wants them, so I’m not surprised he hasn’t needed to use Companions for Hire in the past.

He clears his throat and settles his expression back into that professional look he started with. “So tell me about yourself, Danielle.”

“You can call me Dani. Everyone does.” I hate vague questions like this, but I was smart enough to prepare for this one too, so I have a polished answer ready. “I was raised in a small town not far from Atlanta.”

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