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She’s a country music star who’s lost everything. He’s a billionaire who needs a housekeeper. A fake engagement may be the answer.

Carly Daniels’ manager left Nashville—with all of her money. She’s broke and hiding from the world. But she’s willing to scrub and clean to pay rent.

Jake Anderson is a self-made billionaire. His grandmother’s coming to visit, so he needs a new housekeeper to keep things clean. He finds the right woman to hire, but she has a secret she isn’t sharing.

When things don’t go as expected, they get fake engaged with no romance involved.

Love definitely isn’t part of the plan.

Things may not go to plan.

Chapter One

Carly Daniels looked up at the mansion in front of her. She may have been born in California, but in her heart, she would always be a Tennessee girl. Nothing, and she meant nothing, had been a bigger fantasy than a Southern Gone with the Wind mansion with three-story columns and a wide front porch.

 “Are you ready to go, Carly?” Maggie Morales, her best friend since the third grade, called from that front porch.

Carly sighed. “I don’t have a choice. I’ve lost the house. Lost everything.”

Maggie put an arm over Carly’s shoulders. “Move out to Seattle, live in my guest room, get a fresh start away from the music industry.”

 “My adult life has been shaped by the music I sing and Nashville. I can’t imagine living anywhere else or doing anything else.”

Maggie hugged her. “Know that you are always welcome. I will send you a plane ticket at a moment’s notice.”

Carly hugged her back. “Thank you.” Then she stepped back and started for the house. “I’d like one last look at Plantation Daniels. A lot of great memories were made in this house.” She paused. “Before TJ took it all.”

Maggie hurried to catch up with her. “Remember, no bitterness.”

“Ha! That’s easy for you to say. He didn’t steal everything you owned.”

Maggie muttered something.

“What?”

Maggie cleared her throat. “I said that if you’d let me read your contracts, none of this would have happened.”

Carly stayed silent as she climbed the grand curving staircase to the second floor, faint shadows on the wall to her left the only clues that her gold records, now sold at auction, once hung there.

At the landing, she said, “I didn’t want to bother you. TJ came highly recommended as a financial manager in the music industry, and he seemed trustworthy.”

Maggie snorted.

“Now who’s got a negative attitude?”

Maggie said, “Sorry,” but her tone said that her friend would punch TJ if he ever showed his face again.

Carly turned and walked through her empty master bedroom. She took the stairs tucked in the corner, the ones that went up to the attic, the room she most enjoyed. Her closet.

Magazine editors loved to show photos of her massive closet. What they didn’t seem to realize was that the costumes, other clothes, and accessories that went along with being a country music star took up a lot of space.

The clothes that hadn’t sold at auction lay piled in the middle of the floor, waiting to be hauled away. The house had been repossessed by the bank and everything in the house sold to pay debts she hadn’t known about.

There’d been takers for some of her more glamorous costumes, but not for most of the rest of the clothes. And hats. And boots.

She’d been told she could take anything that hadn’t sold, but she didn’t have any use for a sequined dress. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Pathetic.

Maggie dug through the pile and held up a black dress. “This is cute.”

“What do I need with a little black dress? Elegant restaurants are out. I can barely afford fast food.”

“Take it. Just in case your life gets better. Or you move to Seattle.” She gave her an expression that said that she hadn’t dropped that idea. Maggie reached for a sparkly evening bag. “This too.”

A pair of hot pink cowboy boots sat on a shelf lined up with other boots. They’d always been her favorite. Carly went over and grabbed them. “I always loved these. And a girl can always use a pair of pink boots.”

“Now you’re talking.”

With the dress over one arm and the cowboy boots with the evening bag stuffed inside tucked under the other, Carly spun on her heels and hurried down the stairs to the second-floor landing. “I always loved trying out new songs from this spot. The acoustics are amazing. On some not-so-great days, I’d stand here and sing ‘Sunshine Cowboy.’ I’ve sung it a thousand times in venues around the globe, but that song always cheers me up.”

“You and all of your fans.” She rubbed Carly’s arm. “Sing it one more time.”

Carly took a deep breath and started singing the words that had made her a household name when she was eighteen. Country songs could be sad, but hers was pure happiness. She choked a little on the third verse but made it to the end with tears streaming down her face.

She scrubbed her cheeks with her hands. “Lessons learned. Write happy songs and have a lawyer read everything before you sign it.”

Maggie hugged her again. “You’re a fighter. You may have some struggles, but you’ll come out a winner.”

Head held high, Carly went down the stairs with her friend beside her. She picked up her guitar case with her favorite guitar inside from where it rested beside the door. “At least this was in my name. I just wish I wanted to play it. TJ seems to have stolen that too.” She sighed.

Carly and Maggie walked outside. Then Carly turned and locked the door. Whoever owned it now would have a key. She set the guitar in the rusty truck bed beside the three boxes that contained her worldly possessions.

“I wish you’d had the red sports car in your name,” Maggie said as she cautiously stepped into Carly’s truck. “I can’t even tell the original color of this thing.”

The door groaned as Carly tugged it open. “Just be glad I’d paid cash for a vehicle my groundskeeper could use around the property. It wasn’t part of the TJ mess.” As she climbed inside, she set the dress and boots beside her.

“Rusty with a hole in the seat . . . and loud,” Maggie added as Carly turned the key and started it up.

When Carly glared at her, Maggie held up her hands and added, “I’m glad.”

“It’s about a forty-five-minute drive or a much longer walk from Arrington to Nashville International Airport.” Carly started down the long winding drive to the highway, curving through several hundred acres of green, rolling hills she used to own. On the last curve, she glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the house. Then it was gone forever.

She’d trusted people with her career. She’d had to, especially when she was starting out. She should have known better than to trust someone to manage all of her money. But she hadn’t been the only musician to get cleaned out by TJ.

They drove in silence until Maggie nudged her. “You’ve been closemouthed about your plans. Except that you won’t let me help you.”

“I have some money.” She didn’t add that it was only enough to live cheaply for a month. “My grandmother left me some money a few years ago. I didn’t have the heart to spend it. That account wasn’t connected to TJ.”

“And with that you’ll . . .?”

“I made a motel reservation.” She didn’t add that she’d discovered the money wouldn’t cover apartment rental and a security deposit.

“I’m guessing you won’t be staying downtown at the Hermitage Hotel.”

Carly shook her head. “Good guess. No, I won’t be at a five-star hotel with rose petals in the bath.”

She put on her turn signal to enter the airport ramp off the interstate. “It’s the Music Inn. I stayed there when I moved to Nashville. It was clean and quiet. I have a month to find a job and a place to live. To start over. Maybe find my music again.”

“Sounds like a good plan. Text me every few days.” Maggie shook her finger at her. “Either I get updates or I’m coming back to check on you—with actual suitcases for you and a ticket to Seattle.”

Carly grinned. Maggie had a way of making her smile even when she didn’t feel like it, and that was the best kind of friend.

She came to a stop at the airport’s loading zone, and as she stepped out, a woman pointed to her and said something to the man at her side. They hurried over to Carly and asked for her autograph. She smiled and signed her name.

Maggie joined her as the couple went inside the airport. “You said you wanted to start over. Can you? Carly Daniels is a well-known country music star.”

“I’ve been hiding in my house since I learned about TJ’s bad money management. Everything happened quickly, and I’ve been so stressed out that I haven’t thought about any of this.” She pictured life with the media hounding her. “I know I don’t want reporters crowded around my motel room. That defeats the purpose of a fresh start, and other guests would be bothered.”

“Maybe add hair color?

She held up a handful of her long, curly blonde hair. “I had brown, naturally wavy hair. My first manager thought I’d succeed better as a blonde.” She studied the hair in her hand. “Maybe he was right, but I’m ready for a change.”

“And lose the curls. You spend way too much time on them.”

“Good plan. While I’m at it, I’ll cut it a bit shorter. Anything else, wise one, before you have to board your plane?”

“Makeup.”

“Excuse me?” Carly raised one eyebrow. She’d spent over a half hour, maybe closer to forty-five minutes, on her makeup this morning.

“You created a curly blonde, ton of makeup persona that isn’t you.”

Carly pictured herself. “I like it.”

Maggie shook her head. “I think you’ve added another layer every year. This year, the eye shadow is heavy, the lip color dark and there’s a slash of blush across each cheek.”

Carly put her hand on the side of her face. “You’ve never mentioned it.”

“You seemed happy. But now you want to change. I’ve spent a week with you and this,” she gestured at Carly, “isn’t who you are.”

Carly blew out a deep breath. “I think my makeup became part of a costume I wore every day.”

“No one would expect to see you in natural makeup.”

A woman slowed and stared at Carly as she walked by, then smiled and nodded at her but kept going. Must be a Nashvillian. Locals often acknowledge stars with a nod but leave them alone.

She focused on Maggie. “So, Carly Daniels will become a wavy-haired brunette with somewhat shorter hair and natural makeup.”

Maggie grinned. “That’s a great start.” Her friend popped up the handle on her luggage. “Think about your name too. It doesn’t matter how different you look if you follow that up with ‘Hi, I’m Carly Daniels.’”

“My first manager gave me that name. He thought Carly sounded music-worthy and that Daniels would be easier than McDaniel.”

“Let me know what you decide.” Maggie checked her watch. “It’s almost boarding time.” She began moving toward the door.

“Back to Charlotte McDaniel?” Carly called after her.

“That’s who you really are anyway. Find Charlotte again.” Maggie waved and wheeled her luggage inside.

Wiping away a few tears as she left the airport—how did you fill in the gap for your best friend?—Carly, no Charlotte, drove to her home for the next month. She had considered her options for her life and whittled them down to somewhere in the neighborhood of none.

She had a bank account balance less than many college freshmen, and just like them, had been living on the cheapest food she could find since all of this struck. Gone were the fresh fruit smoothies every morning and long lunches out with friends. Those friends had stopped calling once her star had fallen.

Of course, the news media had taken care of that. According to them, she had spent every dollar on a wasted life that included illegal substances, which she had never consumed, and copious amounts of legal ones, which she rarely consumed. They had declared her a self-indulgent mess.

The problem was that someone else was holding on to her money and her reputation, and they’d done a fine job of stealing one and trashing the other.

She drove toward the Music lnn. Once she had a regular paycheck, she hoped the security of it would give her creativity a boost so she’d want to write songs again. She had to find a way to make her comeback in country music.

But for now, she’d just be Charlotte McDaniel.

She pulled into a drugstore to buy the materials for changing her identity. With hair color, scissors, some softer eye makeup, blush, and lip color, and enough food for a couple of days, Charlotte pulled up to the inn. Swiping more tears off her face, she stepped out of her truck and froze.

This couldn’t be right. She turned to check the sign. It said Music Inn. Her charming small motel had become a fleabag with peeling paint and trash on the ground.

She took a deep breath, immediately regretting it. Stale smoke and other lovely scents she chose not to identify assaulted her nose. She turned to leave but stopped again.

Where to? She’d prepaid and doubted they would want to give her that money back. How bad could it be anyway?

She entered the motel lobby—if one could use a grand term like that for a small room with a chipped counter and a floor that needed new carpet. She walked up to the desk, and the older man behind it ignored her.

“Excuse me?”

He glanced up. “Yes?”

The excellent customer service she’d experienced before seemed to have left the building when the grime moved in.

“I’m here to check in.”

He chuckled. “Carly Daniels, right?”

“Please correct my name to Charlotte McDaniel.”

He erased her name in a ledger—apparently computerized motel systems hadn’t reached here—then wrote it in as she’d asked. He handed her a key. “Enjoy your stay.” He followed that with evil laughter.

So she hadn’t needed to add creepy to her day. She’d lock her door tonight. Glancing back at him as she exited, she thought, and shove something heavy in front of it.

After unlocking her unit’s door, she pushed it open. “No!” she cried. “I can’t do this!” She hurried through the room to check the bathroom. On the far end of that room, mottled gray tiles lined the shower. Gray had become a popular color, so that was okay. A tentative step into the bathroom changed her mind. “Gray grime. Everywhere.” She stifled a scream.

Her options were . . . zero. She’d paid in advance. The manager’s laugh had probably been for that reason.

She’d have to clean this dump. Her next stop would be at the front office. They must have cleaning supplies, even if no one appeared to be using them.

 

Meet Jake in the next chapter. Buy now or check out in Kindle Unlimited to keep reading. 

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