Chapter One

I SHOVED THE LAST piece of furniture in place and fell back in an exhausted heap on my king-sized bed. Perspiration dotted my forehead and fell in rivulets down my temples and into the creases of my bare mattress. I had just spent the last twelve hours hauling all of my earthly possessions up three flights of stairs and into my new one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Manhattan. Actually, "new" was inappropriate. The apartment had probably been built shortly after Columbus arrived, but this was the first time I would be living by myself. After a nightmarish year involving a roommate and her creepy fascination with knives, I decided to hightail it to the other side of the continent.

Naturally, my parents questioned my mental health when I dropped the bomb that I was moving to New York – as luck would have it, we had relatives in every state but the one I chose to live in. With a liberal arts degree from a state university in California, I suddenly found myself single, jobless, and after this spontaneous move, absolutely friendless. My best friend was currently three thousand miles away bulldozing through a case of Coronas with the rest of his college buddies, the Five Year Plan in full swing.

My cell phone rang, and I glanced at the screen.

Speak of the devil.

"Hey, Sam," I said wearily, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand.

"Hey, yourself. Did you get mugged yet?"

"Not yet, but there's a bum sleeping on the doorstep of my building. Who knows what he'll do when he wakes up."

Sam chuckled. "When can I fly out there and embarrass you in front of your friends?"

"As soon as I get friends," I replied with a sigh. "Of all the random, out-of-the-blue things I've done, I think this one takes the cake."

"No joke. When you're tired of flagging down cabs, come back home so we can make sweet love to each other, the way we've always dreamed about."

I nearly choked with laughter. "Hopefully, you'll be straight by then."

"For you, Em, anything is possible. Shit, hold up." I heard another voice saying something at a distance. "Yeah, just a sec. Hey, Em? I'll call you back later, okay? Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Well, that doesn't leave much, does it?"

He laughed. "Love you."

When we hung up, I felt slightly less lonely. After a quick dinner consisting of soggy Lean Cuisine and a glass of champagne to celebrate, I logged onto my computer. Though my rent was by no means proportional to the quality of my accommodations, it still had to be paid. What I needed was a job with a decent salary, minimal "bitch work," and no overtime. Which cut out about two-thirds of my options, but oh, well. I could always be a restaurant server until I found my professional niche.

I don't know what possessed me to browse through the personals online, but I found my cursor hovering over "M for W" on a popular site similar to Craig's List. The results were painful. There were far too many lonely New Yorkers in my area than legally acceptable, and my bleeding Californian heart went out to them. I had been MIA on the dating scene for over two years, but what the hell. I could meet a man, fix him up, then send him on his merry way. From the looks of it, most of these people simply wanted someone to talk to. I wasn't a world class conversationalist, but chatting over coffee or cocktails would do just nicely.

I skipped over men advertising for a "wife for bearing children" and "adventuress who wants the ride of her life," and paused over another:

WANTED: Friendly, easy-going female companion to go out with on Fridays. Strictly platonic.

It was the "strictly platonic" that sold me. The ad provided an email address, and two seconds later I was staring at a blank message box, wondering what could possibly be wrong with me. This would make the second most spontaneous action in three days. At this rate, I'd be living in a grass hut somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa by next week, just because I saw zebras on TV.

Dear Sir, I began to type, then stopped. Too formal. I hit the backspace and started again.


I'm responding to your ad for a female companion. I'm free this Friday, if you'd like to meet up. Any time after noon is fine with me.



I hesitated. Should I add something more personal about myself? Fresh out of college and in desperate need of a job? Don't know a thing about New York other than the fact it makes a huge dent in my bank account?

What the hell, I thought, and clicked "Send" as is. He would have plenty of time to get to know me over coffee or, preferably, dinner courtesy of his Visa card. I refused to believe male chivalry was dead. Maybe I was a southern girl at heart, even though I rarely visited my southern relatives, who pretty much made up half the population of Louisiana. Or maybe I was just flat broke and grabbed every opportunity to freeload.

Sadly, it was mostly the latter. The last time I checked my savings, I nearly cried. My parents had graciously decided to encourage my job hunting experience by cutting funds entirely. Of course, they chose to do so the day after I made the initial deposit on my apartment, which left me with a whopping two hundred dollars and fifty-three cents to get me through the month. I'd be lucky if it lasted a week in this city.

Male chivalry. Hmm…

I scrolled down the list of personal ads, and smiled slowly as a thought came to me. There were dozens of lonely hearts in need of some company. Why not lend myself to them for a night and get a free meal while I was at it? Next to rent, food was my largest expense. If I schedule one date for each day, I could save some serious money. At the same time, I'd be making a poor guy happy for once. I might not be a Jessica Simpson, but I was attractive in a girl-next-door kind of way. Besides, men who had to advertise for friendship couldn't be too picky.

By midnight, I had booked two dates for the following day and the Wednesday after that. I soon learned that quickness of the response was proportional to their desperation. Tomorrow's date, a widower named Harry, had virtually replied the second after I sent my message. Mike, a.k.a. Mr. Wednesday, replied a few minutes after that.

Sweet. Two meals and counting.

When I finally turned in for the night, I was giddy with anticipation. Effectively, I was killing three birds with one stone – getting fed, meeting new people, and making people's lives a little bit happier. It was like community service with perks.

I turned over and fell asleep with a satisfied smile.