Companion for Hire

Chapter One

Marissa Cooper was content with her life. Sure, she was single and had not had sex since her fiancé had left her for another woman, and maybe she was bothered by the fact that she had relatively few close friends, acquaintances, yes, friends no, but, in general, she couldn't complain about her life. After all, it could always be worse. While there were things she would change about herself and her existence if she could, there were many things about her life that she loved. Though small, she had a happy family. With her Mom and her sister, she knew she always had someone there to encourage and care for her. Not only were they her support system, but they were also her best friends, and she was theirs as well. Plus, she had a wonderful job working as a buyer for the Saks Department Store chain, an amazing apartment that overlooked the ocean, a fast car, a cushy bank account, a wardrobe to die for, her health, and two of the cutest kittens imaginable. Yes, she mused to herself as she walked along the path that led to her Mother's expansive back patio, after twenty eight years, she was happy and at peace with herself.

"Mom," her light, still girlish voice called out for the illusive Julie Cooper, "where are you?"

As was customary, they were meeting for Sunday brunch. Because both women lived hectic lives, Sunday mornings and afternoons were designated as their time to spend together. They would either meet at one another's house or at a restaurant, eat decadent food, and relax the hours away while they shared the news of their life and interesting anecdotes from their previous week. Their cell phones would get turned off, no one ever knew where they were, and the rest of the world disappeared as they just focused upon each other and their relationship. The two women had not always been close, especially during Marissa's teenage years, but, after realizing where their priorities should lie, their bond strengthened and a real, loving relationship was forged between them.

"I'm coming," the effervescent red head called out to her daughter as she descended the numerous stairs out of her house to join her. "Sorry about that, running late, but my yoga instructor stayed later than he was supposed to."

"Was this the one that actually gives you lessons or was this the one you practice your newfound flexibility on?"

After several failed marriages that left her bank account flush and her sexual appetite ravenous, Julie Cooper, her other numerous last names dropped for convenience purposes, had decided it was time to limit the men in her life to two roles: platonic friendship, which mainly consisted of her personal shoppers, hair dressers, manicurists, and interior designer, all of whom were not interested in joining her other category of men, and sex toys, all of whom were younger, vainer, and more materialistic than she was. Marissa couldn't understand how this type of existence could be enough for her Mom, how she could settle for numerous loveless relationships instead of one meaningful one, but as long as Julie was happy and not interfering in her life, she would not interfere in Mother's.

Quirking one of her finely shaped eyebrows at her daughter, the older woman answered, "why would Maurice," the actual yoga professional, "stay over longer than necessary. That would just cost me more."

"And that's what I love about you, Mom," Marissa teased, pulling out a chair and sitting down to the umbrella covered table they would be eating brunch at. "Your lifestyle is so extraordinarily unpractical, but you always manage to make everything you do sound so sensible."

"Aren't we the cheeky one," Julie volleyed back, taking her seat as well. As the maid brought forth the generous amounts of food the red head had called out and hadcatered for the weekly meal, the older woman spread her napkin delicately across her lap and motioned for her daughter to start eating. "Please," she commanded playfully, "nourish that waif-life body of yours. Not only will it make you bigger than I am, but it will also keep your mouth shut."

"How's Caitlyn?" The instruction her Mother gave her went ignored. "The last time I heard from her was a couple of days ago, and she was on her way to pawn some of your jewelry in order to pay her rent. Is she alright?"

"She's fine, no thanks to your help," Julie groused. "Despite the fact that you did not call to warn me about my stolen possessions, I managed to figure out what she was up to before she made it to the pawn shop, bought the pieces back from her at a very generous price since she claimed she was holding them hostage and I had to pay her ransom money for them, and then proceeded to follow her as she went and spent all the money on questionable purchases of her favorite illegal substance."

"What about her rent?"

"It turns out," the red head explained, "that she decided to let her apartment go and is now house sitting for a friend that is going on an extended vacation to Europe."

"Well for how long," Marissa questioned, concerned for her younger sister, "and what is she going to do when the friend comes back? Where is she going to store her furniture? She's still going to keep her job even though she'll have no expenses now, right?"

Throwing her hands up in aggravation at her younger daughter, Julie exclaimed, "I don't know! When has Caitlyn ever told me what her plans were, let alone do anything responsible and plan ahead? This is your baby sister we're talking about here. She's not you; she's not the one who makes list, pays all her bills early, and is slightly neurotic when it comes to being prepared for anything. Caitlyn's my free spirit."

"She's you twenty-five years ago," the younger woman quipped, smirking in self-congratulations when her Mother went to reply but couldn't say anything to refute the perceptive comment. "Let's talk about something else though. I'll need to save some of my questions for Caitlyn herself when we meet up next Friday to go shopping after work."

"Tell me about you then. What have you been up to this week? How was work?"

"Work was….work, hectic, crazy, and absolutely wonderful," Marissa gushed. "Did I tell you that I get to go to fashion week in Milan this year instead of New York? It's an all expenses paid trip, too. I'll be staying at a five star hotel, eating at the most delectable Italian restaurants, and sitting front row at every single show." Pausing for effect, she only continued when she was positive she had her Mother's enraptured attention. "And the best part is, I'm allowed to take someone with me, any little fashion lover I choose."

"Perhaps you'll have a boyfriend to take with you instead," Julie responded tentatively, dropping her dark, mascara lengthened lashes down to hide the mischievous glimmer in her twinkling green eyes. "After all, Italy and especially Milan is a very romantic city. Or you could even meet an attractive, wealthy member of a respected, royal family."

Groaning, the younger woman complained, "Mom! I thought you agreed to back off on these matchmaking ideas you have for me."

"I did! I let you sit around your depressing apartment…"

"I like my depressing apartment, thank you very much," the blonde interrupted impertinently.

"….moping and brooding for six months," Julie finished her statement. "It's time you let the past go and move on." Her daughter simply glared at her. "Come on, Marissa! I'm not saying you should go out and fall madly in love with the first man who salivates in your direction, but you need to start dating again eventually. Yes, your fiancé cheated on you, and you broke up with him. It happens all the time."

"We were together since we were eleven, high school sweethearts, prom king and queen, the couple everyone voted to live happily ever after, engaged in college, and planning to spend the rest of our lives together." Sniffling, she held back her tears. "I should be married right now, maybe even expecting my first child, but instead I got dumped two weeks before my wedding, and I'm sorry if you don't approve of me still being upset about that fact, but I just watched seventeen years of my life disintegrate into nothing!"

"And it should have happened a long time ago," the older woman snapped back. "Luke treated you horribly. He dismissed your ideas, your interests, belittled you in front of your friends, controlled you, and made you feel as if you needed him in your life to be something. If I would have had my way, you would have left him about sixteen and half years ago." Taking a deep breath, she pressed on, her tone softer and more soothing. "Marissa, sweetheart, he didn't deserve you, and he sure as hell does not deserve your turning yourself into a nun. You're young, beautiful, successful, witty, and any man would be damn lucky to have you, so get out there, show the rest of the world and Luke Ward what they're missing by not being with you. I mean, he's moved on…"

"Excuse me?"

Julie's eyes flew open in shock. She had not meant to reveal the latest Newport gossip to her still hurting daughter that way, but she was trapped, and, looking into Marissa's conflicted, haunted, baby blue eyes, she knew she would have to explain. "He's engaged again…to the woman he cheated on you with. They've even bought a house together already."

"What Luke does with his life is no longer my concern," Marissa dismissed. "If he wants to settle for a slut who he picked up drunk at a bar, then that's his business. I really don't see what this has to do with me, because there's no way I'm going to make a fool out of myself and jump into bed with the first decent looking man I meet like he did. His marriage is going to be over in a few years; I want to find a relationship that lasts forever."

"Of course you do, honey, but I just…I wanted you to be prepared when you see them."

Confused, the blonde pondered in a soft voice, "what? Why would I have to see them? It's not as if we run in the same circles anymore."

"Did you forget about your ten year high school reunion that's coming up in two weeks, you know the one where you're going to be spending a weekend at a resort with all your former classmates, the one you already RSVP'd for," Julie's eyes fell away from her daughter's, and her voice dropped in volume before she completed the statement, "yourself…and a guest."

"I'm not going!"

"But you have to, don't you see that?" When Marissa simply crossed her arms in contrary discord, the older woman explained. "If you don't show up, they're going to automatically assume that you're too afraid to face Luke, that you're still hung up on him, and that you're hiding away with your cats eating pints of ice cream every night while watching cheesy chic flicks, and I refuse to let you let them think that of you. You're Julie Cooper's daughter after all, and Cooper women don't cry over spilled Cristal; we always get the last word, we always pay back those who have hurt us, and we most definitely make them regret that they ever disrespected us."

"Mom, it's spilled milk."

"Baby, if you're drinking milk, there are worse things in your life to cry about besides a broken heart," Julie teased, making her daughter smile. "Now, I know that you're not seeing anyone right now, but we have two weeks to find you a drop dead gorgeous billionaire with a heart of gold. I'll just call some of the girls from the club…."

"Wait a second, Heidi Fleiss, stop right there. You will not be setting me up," the younger woman replied vehemently. "If I do this, and that's a big if, I will find my own date."

"But you're practically a hermit! How are you going to meet the next up and coming bachelor who has the bank account of Mark Cuban and the looks of an Abercrombie Fitch model?"

"First of all," Marissa announced, standing up and gathering her things from the chair beside her, "I don't want another typical, spoiled, selfish Newport heir. I want someone who's real, who's with me for me and not for the bottom line of my bank account. Secondly, the last time you tried to set Caitlyn up on a date, she ended up with an arrogant ass who left her at the restaurant for the waitress before their appetizers were even served, so your matchmaking track record speaks for itself. And finally, I'm twenty eight years old. If I can't find my own date, then it's time I got out of the game."

"Fair enough….," her voice trailed off as she watched her daughter walk away on the same stone path that had led her into the backyard a half an hour before. "Where are you going?"

"Home. I have things to do if I'm going to this reunion."

Marissa Cooper was suddenly not so content with her life. While she was single and lonely both emotionally and physically, her former fiancé, who just so happened to be her high school sweetheart, was engaged to another woman…the same woman he had cheated on her with, and the fact that she had relatively few close friends, acquaintances, yes, friends no, made it so that she couldn't simply ask someone to pretend to be her date. Yes, she could definitely complain about her life. After all, could it be any worse? If she could, she would change everything about herself and her existence. Her family knew she was unhappy and tortured her with the knowledge that she needed to reenter the dating circle. With her Mom and her sister, she knew she always had someone there to push and pressure her into doing things she really didn't want to do…like confronting her ex at her ten year high school reunion. What made it even worse was that they were her best friends, too. Who were best friends with their family? She hadn't been promoted at work in years, her apartment was simply a bachelorette pad, her car had a dent in the rear fender where she had accidentally backed into a shopping cart when getting groceries a week before, she didn't invest her money like any wise woman should, her wardrobe was drab and boring, consisting of pieces any Newport belle could own, she had two pimples threatening to become more, and her only constant companions were her two kittens. Yes, she mused to herself as she walked along the path that led her back to her car, she was a grumpy, frumpy, romantically stumped crazy cat lady! Her life was a disaster!

\ \ \

"Hi, Brian. This is Marissa….Marissa Cooper. We work together, well, I mean, not together…together, but we both work for Saks, me as a purchaser and you in marketing. I remember talking to you at the Christmas party last year. …. Um, yeah, I was actually calling to ask a favor of you. It's really a pretty funny story actually. You see, my Mom went and RSVP'd for me for my ten year high school reunion, and she put down two people, but I don't have a date. So I was wondering…. Oh, you're married. …. Yeah, of course, no, I understand completely. Sorry to bother you. Thanks anyway."

\ \ \

"Travis, long time, no chat! How have you been? …. This is Marissa Cooper. We were friends in college, remember? You would always come to me for fashion advice, and I would get relationship tips from you. ….Yeah, that's me, the one who used to date the water polo asshole. …. Luke and I, no, we broke up. …. Actually, he cheated on me, and that's kind of why I'm calling. My ten year high school reunion is coming up in two weeks, and I need a date. …. Oh, that's okay; I'll pay for your travel expenses. …. I'm sure you'll be able to get it off. It's on the weekend, the whole weekend actually. …. Yes, that means we'd be sharing a room. Is that a problem? … Oh, you're gay. I see. …. Suddenly, our past relationship makes more sense now. …. Yeah, of course, no hard feelings. It was good to talk to you, too. Bye."

\ \ \

"Hello, this is Marissa Cooper calling for Chad Jennings. …. Oh, hi, Mrs. Jennings, how are you? …. I'm good, too. …. No, single and no kids. …. No, I didn't join a convent. …. Chad, Mrs. Jennings, is he there, or do you have his number so I could get in touch with him? It's kind of important and definitely time sensitive. …. He's dead?! …. I'm so sorry; really, I had no idea. …. Thanks, um, anyway."

\ \ \

"Hi, is Tom there? This is Marissa Coo…. ….. Tom Davidson. …. Oh, wrong number. Yeah, sorry for bothering you."

\ \ \

"Hey, this is Marissa Cooper. Are you Kris, the Kris Sterling who used to go to Newport Union? …. Excuse me? …. You're Kristina now. I don't get it. …. Holy shit! You had a sex change?! …. I was actually, um, calling to ask you out….not as a date…date but for my high school reunion. …. I know we haven't talked to each other in ten years, I was desperate. …. Well, not that desperate! …. I'm sorry, I have to go."

\ \ \

The negative responses kept coming in, and, as Marissa leaned down on top of her desk, resting her weary face against the open pages of the thick, weapon-esque phone book, her polite replies to the rejections washed over her in a dizzying wave of self-doubt and shame. 'You're just not interested. I understand.' 'You have a girlfriend, a mistress, and a wife already. Of course you don't need a pity date as well.' 'Why would you want to go to my high school reunion with me if you didn't go to your own?' 'You never liked me in the first place. Good to know.' 'Of course you don't date patients, Dr. Olson, and, don't worry, I'll bring in Ariel and Sebastian next week for a check up. Thanks.' 'You're allergic to hotel rooms. Yeah, I really believe that excuse! Thanks for nothing, ass!' 'You're going to be in jail that weekend. Well, good luck with that.' 'You want my Mom's number after you shot me down so rudely? Go to hell!' Just when she thought the refusals couldn't get any worse, they always did.

"That's it," she cried out to herself in a fit of rage. "My life is over; I'll never be able to show my face in this town…hell this state again after this latest debacle. I should just throw in the towel now, give up. Hey, while I'm at it, why not plan my own funeral? It seems to be a fitting end to this unproductive, humiliating day." With that thought in mind, Marissa's nimble fingers began to flip through the yellow pages, quickly searching for the numerous local funeral directors. Instead, however, as if it was providence, her eyes landed on an ad for male escorts. "What the hell," she rationalized. "At least they can't turn me down." And with that, she picked up her cell one more time, quickly dialed the 1-800 number, and waited for someone to pick up.

Twenty minutes later and five thousand dollars poorer, she had herself a date for the reunion, a splitting headache, and a permanent blush on her high cheek bones. It might not have been how she or Julie had imagined she would get a date, but she wasn't out of the game yet.

\ \ \

"No, I'm not taking smutty lingerie, Mother! We barely know each other," a lie – she didn't know him at all, "so there's no way anything physical is going to happen this weekend. We're friends." Another lie. "And even if we weren't, I'm not that kind of girl. I don't put out that easily." The third lie: she basically NEVER put out.

"Why not, Marissa? Just think of this weekend as a vacation not only from your apartment and your cats but also as a vacation from yourself. Let go, do something crazy, have an orgasm," Julie instructed, giggling to herself when she heard her daughter mumble incoherent complaints under her breath about her lack of propriety. "If you don't have sex soon, you're going to forget how to do it. It's not just like riding a bike no matter what people might say."

"Even if that would forget how to," Marissa snapped back, "I'm sure you'd be able to write a how-to instruction manual to refresh my memory!"

"You know," the older woman mused thoughtfully with no trace of annoyance or hurt in her voice, "that's a pretty good idea. I could make millions off of a sex book, detailing all my past experiences and offering advice. Of course, I'd have to publish it anonymously. You know how these rich, snobby socialites are in this town; they'd ostracize me forever if I publicly…."

"It was just a joke," the blonde interrupted. "And if you ever, EVER do anything like that, EVER, I will change my name, renounce you as my Mother, and have my eyes permanently sewed shut just so that I'd never accidentally stumble across even a sentence of that trash rag!"

"Don't wrinkle your La Perla," Julie commanded. "Now, calm down and tell me what you packed."

"Just a little bit of this and a little bit of that."

Knowing the younger woman all too well, the red head pushed, "how many suitcases are waiting at your bedroom door for your date to carry out to the car?"

"I don't have time to count right now," Marissa barked.

"If there's so many that you'd have to count them to know, then you definitely have too much. I want you to put away have of everything you packed."

"And I want you to go and harass your younger daughter for a while," the blonde quipped. "Seriously, Mom, he's going to be here any second. I don't have time for this."

Curious, Julie, instead of hanging up, simply asked more questions. "What's his name, where did you meet him, what does he do, and, most importantly, what does he look like?"

"You don't need to know his name, how we met is none of your business, it shouldn't matter what he does, and I'm not telling you what he looks like, because you have a terrible reputation for coveting other people's boyfriends…even if they're your own daughters'."

"But he's not your boyfriend," Julie pointed out snidely, "and, according to you, the poor guy has no chance of getting any, so why no share him with me?"

"We're not having this discussion! Now, listen up and listen closely." Taking a deep breath, Marissa tried to calm herself, to quell her frustration before continuing. "This is just one weekend. We're going to go to this ridiculous and irrelevant reunion, make nice with the spoiled snobs and judgmental jocks I went to high school with, and, in all likelihood, by the time Sunday rolls around, he'll be so sick of me, I'll never see him again. End of story."

"But why can't it be more than that," the red head argued. "Why can't you just give this guy a shot? Sure, it'll probably amount to nothing, but will it hurt you to try?"

Saving her the hassle of continuing the disagreement they had been having for the past two weeks, the doorbell sounded throughout the apartment, alerting Marissa to the fact that her date…err…escort…was there. "Oh, would you listen to that," she taunted. "I've been saved by the bell, how passé but fantastic at the same time."

"Just think about what I said…."

"Sorry, Mom, I can't. I have to go. It's been a blast talking to you, as always, but hell awaits me."

Although she could hear her Mother calling her name in an agitated manner, she flipped her cell closed anyway, tossing it into her purse which was positioned on top of the mountain range of luggage piled haphazardly by her bedroom door before running out of the room and towards the entrance to her apartment. "I'm coming, I'm coming," she called out ahead of her own scurrying form. Swinging the door open, she immediately began to apologize. "Sorry about that. Mothers, you can't live with them and you can't kill them without being sent to jail for at least thirty years, so what are you going to do?" His back was towards her as he surveyed the open courtyard of her building's complex, apparently appreciating the beachside views the expensive two bedroom, two bathroom townhouse apartment afforded her. "Anyway, won't you please come in? I'm almost ready." As he started turning around, she held out her hand to introduce herself. "I'm Marissa Cooper, and I assume you're my very own American Gigolo."

"Actually," the blonde haired, blue eyed man standing across from her replied rather curtly, "I prefer to be considered a companion for hire, but you can call me Ryan. Ryan Atwood."

And, just like that, his rough, calloused hand grasped hers tightly, but Marissa didn't feel their joined palms moving in a formal greeting, she didn't hear him commenting upon her idyllic apartment, nor did she see the raw, sexual appreciation shining through his eyes as he gazed upon her beautiful body. All she could think about, taste, smell, see, hear, and touch was the overwhelming attraction she was experiencing towards her employed date. It was going to be a long….very interesting….weekend.