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Dreaming of His Convenient Kiss
Author: Jessie Gussman

Chapter 1


Natalie Mooney sat at her kitchen table, her divorce papers in front of her.

The children were in bed, and she didn’t swipe at the one lone tear that tracked down her cheek.

This wasn’t the way she expected her life to turn out.

When she married Eric, she’d never dreamed she’d eventually be sitting at a rickety, Formica-topped, metal table, in a termite-eaten farmhouse, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, staring at the paper that was supposed to dissolve five years of her life.

It contained the ashes of her little-girl dreams.

The memories of late nights alone, wondering where he was.

Early mornings the same, only with their children around.

Hospital stays where she farmed her children out to neighbors between contractions, because her husband had to take a business trip.

When she’d questioned him, he’d gotten angry.

It’d taken her years, but when she cleaned out his car, and found the underwear that wasn’t hers, and confronted him with it, and he’d denied it at first, but then he let loose with all the things she lacked and all the reasons he needed to find someone else, she’d made up her mind.

He threatened her with physical harm and shoved her into a wall, using his fist on her cheek.

The next time he came home from a business trip, she wasn’t there.

Tapping her finger on the table, she looked at the paper and the little perfect circle of wetness that had fallen off her cheek and slowly seeped onto the bottom of it.

Directly beside that, her phone lay on the table, the screen blank.

She didn’t need it to be on to know what would pop up when she pressed the button.

Her house was condemned, and she had two weeks left to move.

This place had been dirt cheap. Still, she’d barely been able to afford it with the telemarketing job she did all afternoon and at night after the children went to bed.

She hadn’t found another place to compare with the price.

She wasn’t being picky. She’d take anything, anything at all that would keep her children with her. All five of them.

That’s what had led her to the site that was on her phone now. Marriageofconvenience.com.

It was supposed to be a Christian site, and everyone was supposed to be vetted. She’d put her application in. It had taken her two weeks to be approved, so she thought they were pretty thorough in their vetting.

It was three o’clock in the morning, and she’d spent the last six hours going through the site.

She’d chosen someone.

There were no names on the site—just nicknames—to preserve privacy. When they were both comfortable with each other, they’d reach out to the admins together, and their names would be released to each other. She liked that added bit of security.

The man she’d chosen had included his email address in his profile—not all of them had—and she felt like she wanted to reach out that way.

She just wasn’t sure what to say.

Maybe she should wait until morning when she was more rested, less emotional.

Seeing the finality of her divorce had been more unsettling than she had thought it would be.

Eric didn’t have any claim on her heart. Not anymore, and he hadn’t for a long time, but it was more that those papers represented the death of everything she’d hoped her life would be and had put her into the ranks of divorcee, had put her children into the ranks of single-parent home, had given her an “ex,” and rang with a finality she hadn’t expected.

Her body felt painful and numb at the same time. She hadn’t known it could do that.

Picking up her phone, she pulled up the mail app and typed in his email address: [email protected].

The creaks and groans of the little old house didn’t bother her at all, nor did the blowing of the wind or the quietness of the kitchen.

Outside, Natalie had to be brave. She had five children watching her.

Inside, she was scared to death.

Her thumbs hovered above her phone. She tried to figure out how best to word her request.

Dear Mr. Wilder Man,

She looked at that. It seemed a little formal for someone she was planning to offer marriage to.

She deleted the “Mr.” then put it back in.

His profile said he was a white-collar worker, married once for five years, divorced, and on good terms with the ex. Two children that his wife had custody of, and he had two days of visitation every two weeks. She deliberately looked for someone with a job that didn’t include traveling, and his did not. Although he hadn’t gone into detail about what he did, just termed it office worker in finance.

She had no idea what that was. Anything from a bank teller to an accountant, she supposed.

Regardless, it sounded appropriately boring and did not involve travel.

Her standards were not high, but she did have them.

She wasn’t doing a repeat of Eric. What was the point of living life and making mistakes if one didn’t learn from them?

I saw your profile on marriageofconvenience.com. This email is in regards to that.

You can view my profile HERE, but I wanted to tell you a little bit about myself and make my case.

I’m faithful and loyal. I will be completely devoted to you and you alone. I do not need, do not expect, and do not want to be showered with flowers or candy or gifts or any other silly romantic thing.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where none of that matters.

Here, she paused, because she was only 23 years old.

Funny how she felt so much older. So. Much. Older.

She’d gotten pregnant at 15, and instead of learning from that mistake, she had another baby before her classmates graduated from high school.

She hadn’t. Graduated, that is. She’d had two children.

Water under the bridge.

She was going to learn from that mistake. And every other mistake she made in her life. She was done being stupid.

Probably shouldn’t put that in her letter, although she wanted to. Dear Wilder Man, I’m done being stupid.

She wasn’t exactly selling herself with that.

As she looked back at her phone, her thumbs started moving again.

Your profile said you wanted a traditional wife, and I can assure you that is definitely what I intend to be. I will cook for you, do your laundry, clean your house, I’ll even take care of the yard work and vehicle maintenance. You will be well taken care of.

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