Dear Reader,

Ever wonder what it’d be like to go on a romantic weekend trip to Italy with a virtual stranger? Though Megan Rooney would have never volunteered for the experience before, now she finds herself tagging along with her cute next-door neighbor, Nick Walker – pretending to be his wife.

I like when characters get thrown into these outlandish situations, but I like it even more when the characters’ reactions make the story feel real to me. Megan Rooney was one of those characters. At the beginning of the book, she gets fired from her job as a travel show host. She’s justifiably upset and looking for an escape – so she agrees to take the trip with Nick.

Nick Walker was another one of those characters I immediately understood. He slipped up and told his meddling grandma that he was already married, and agreed to bring his recent bride to her home in Tuscany. We all have those moments when we want to please the people we love. And since Nick was always attracted to Meg, he took the opportunity to pretend to be her husband. You can’t blame the guy for trying.

And thus, The Weekend Wife scheme fell into action. I hope you enjoy the trip.

James Patterson

Chapter 1

YOU’RE JOKING, RIGHT? Wait. Is there a hidden camera? Am I being punked?”

Historically, my producer only treats me to gourmet dining when we have something to celebrate. As the television host of the long-running travel show, Epic Adventures with Megan Rooney, I expected “You’re getting that salary bump” or “You’ve been nominated for an award.”

I wasn’t ready for: “They’re terminating your contract.”

Certain I’m being teased, I roll my eyes and grin. “Go on, Silverman. Say it. Gotcha!

Ben scratches his brow, then loosens his tie.

What the – “You’re serious?”

“Look, Meg – ”

“You’re freaking serious. You’re firing me.”

“This isn’t coming from me.”

“It sure as hell sounds like it’s coming from you!” My cheeks flame as heads turn my way. Normally I like being the center of attention. It’s part of my nature. Part of my job.

But now I want to duck and hide.

I gulp my full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, which suddenly tastes like paint thinner. I tell myself to calm down even as my heart races inside my constricted chest.

Ben sighs. “I don’t call the shots. Not when it comes to finances and distribution. You know that. This is a dictate from the studio. The show is getting a makeover. New title. New agenda. New host.”

I feel equally panicked and curious. “Why?”

“Why do you think? Ratings are down. Competition’s a bitch.”

I can’t argue the last part. It’s true. I can name twenty similar programs off the top of my head. Do a cyber search on travel shows and you’ll come up with hundreds. The only way to stand out is to have a unique angle or a vibrant personality. Epic Adventures with Megan Rooney has both. Granted, I’m not a superstar with brand merchandising, but I do have a reasonable following.

Or at least I thought I did.

“So change the title and agenda,” I say. “Is it something disgusting? Something involving bizarre cuisine? Exploring the horrors of one-star hotels? I’m up to the challenge.”

“That’s just it, Meg. You’re not.”

I grip the table because, I swear, the earth is crumbling beneath me. I’ve worked in entertainment, in various capacities, for more than twenty-five years. From live improv to rehearsed productions. Epic Adventures ran for six seasons, and most of them were strong. Telling me I don’t have what it takes to adapt to a new role is a slap to my ego and experience.

And what about my team? All the guys, aside from Ben, have a partner or wife. Some have kids. They need that steady paycheck. Plus, they love their jobs. If the show is getting a makeover …

I swallow and dare to ask the question. “What about you and the crew?”

Ben has that pitying look in his eye. Like the time in Malaysia when he informed me I was the only one on the team who contracted food poisoning. The night prior to filming a segment high over the treacherous region of Mount Kinabalu. That adventure required me to cross the world’s highest “iron road” via a series of rungs, rails, and cables … with a cramped stomach.

“We’re all being reassigned,” he said.

Code for: We dodged the bullet.

I should be relieved. I am relieved. But I’m also envious. “Why am I learning all of this from you and not my agent?”

“Liza will get the call tomorrow. I wanted … I thought you should hear this from me. I know we knock heads but we made a good team.”

Past tense.

“We’re friends.”

More like flirty work associates. But since he does look slightly upset, I don’t press the point.

He reaches across the table and lays his hand over mine. “It’s not the end of the world.”

Normally, his touch – however slight – would incite a fluttery feeling. I’ve always had a thing for Ben. Right now, I feel sick.

“Not the world,” I say, unable to squash my resentment. “Just my world.”

Gaze intent, Ben, my former producer and so-called friend, leans forward and lowers his voice. “Look at it as a chance to explore new options. A chance to get a damn life.”

“I have a damn life.” Tempering my own tone, I match his heated stare. “Why did you bring me to a crowded restaurant to serve me my walking papers? Oh, wait. Oh, hell. Because you knew I wouldn’t rant or cry in public.”

“There is that. Also … ” His lip crooks. “The studio’s picking up the tab.”

His attempt to lighten the mood sucks, but that doesn’t stop me from jumping on his stick-it-to-them offer. “I’m ordering the most expensive entrée on the menu. Plus another bottle of wine.”

“That’s my girl.”

Something he used to say every time I nailed a tough assignment. It used to make me smile.

Chapter 2

BEN’S RIGHT. I won’t cause a public scene. I have my pride. But a woman only has so much restraint. I feel mine slipping with each sip of wine.

He mentioned, then skated over, the shocking reveal of my replacement, choosing to focus on the daredevil antics she’ll be tackling – most of them taking place in remote and treacherous regions. Regions more suited to a survivalist than a tourist.

Now he’s reminding me of the time I balked at cage diving with great whites in Oz. And how I gave him guff when he asked that I wear a bikini as opposed to a wet suit.

“Missy’s game for anything,” he says. “And, unlike you, she’s an athlete.”

She’s also a clichéd bombshell. More beauty than brains.

“When did life-threatening become synonymous with adventurous?” I ask. “Whatever happened to wit and intellect?”

He gives me a look. “Do I really have to spell it out?”

Of course he doesn’t. The fact that I even voiced that annoyance screams of an outdated mind-set. And that, I think as I finish off my wine, is the elephant in the room.

My age.

The more Ben talks, the greater my distress. I can memorize and retain pages of script, wax poetic about art and history and architectural wonders. I can entice armchair travelers to immerse themselves in the experience … but I can’t turn back time.

The waiter serves our meals.

I stare at my plate, overwhelmed by the colossal portion and rich aromas, blindsided by a wave of depression that overshadows my fury. Without so much as tasting my fifty-ounce rib eye à la Oscar, I ask the waiter for a jumbo doggie bag and another bottle of wine.

To his credit, Ben doesn’t try to talk me into staying. Nor does he argue when I refuse a ride home.

“At least give me the pleasure of walking out on you,” I say with halfhearted snark.

By the time I get back home to my apartment in a brownstone, my feet are cramping and my restraint is shot.

I slam my apartment door. “Dammit!” Kick off my four-inch heels.

Hands trembling, I set the expensive bottle of wine on the counter along with the excessive dinner.

I grab a tissue and pitch the empty box. As hot tears flow, I open and bang shut cupboards looking for a fresh supply. I settle on a roll of paper towels.

“Freaking Missy Delecorte? Seriously?”

Blowing my nose into a wad of absorbent picker-uppers, I drop onto the sofa, rattled by the intensity of my venomous thoughts and shattered feelings.

It’s not like I haven’t suffered rejection before. And it’s not the first time I’ve lost a gig for one reason or another. It’s not even a question of how I’ll pay immediate bills. Given the fickle nature of the industry, instead of indulging and enjoying the benefits of a steady paycheck from Epic Adventures, I stockpiled my moderate earnings. Losing my job to a sexpot reality star, a woman half my age, is more of an ego crusher than a financial crisis.

I’m unemployed and over forty.

The prospect of returning to a life of endless auditions and temporary bookings, of competing for roles in a youth-obsessed industry is … terrifying.

I massage my tight chest and curse the sting of new tears. Apparently, in addition to my job, I lost my moxie.

I stifle a groan and catch sight of the framed photo celebrating a performance from long ago – me in a starring role of Much Ado About Nothing.

I wing the pillow at my smiling, once-confident mug. It’s a kneejerk reaction that knocks the picture from the wall …

… and incites an avalanche of precariously stacked books.

Feeling childish on top of everything else, I drop my head to my hands and scramble to rally.

Through the haze of my riotous thoughts, I hear my name.

Startled, my bleary gaze darts to the door, now standing wide open, and the figure of a blurry man hovering on my threshold.