For Gertrude L. Fike, it was the chance of a lifetime. Almost.

The Colorado woman, in her job as personal secretary and bookkeeper for a director of Hardee's Food Systems, Inc. -- the fast food chain -- became aware on March 8 of an offer another company was making to purchase all of the outstanding shares of Hardees stock.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, she learned that the offer, from PET Inc., would amount to about $20 a share. The closing price of Hardees common stock that day, on the New York Stock Exchange, was 11 3/4.

After being party to telephone conversations with several people concerning the proposed deal, the SEC pointed out, Fike began to see the ramifications of the situation.

That night, she "attempted to contact her son by telephone," according to SEC documents. "In the third such attempt, Fike reached her son in Sioux Falls, S.D., and advised him to open a margin account with a broker-dealer and to place an order to purchase as much Hardees common stock as he could afford. Fike cautioned her son to place the order before he went to work the following day."

Sure enough, that's just what happened. The next day, Fike's son went to a Sioux Falls broker-dealer and placed an order for 500 shares of Hardees common stock. "In connection with the purchase order, Fike's son withdrew all of the money in the commercial bank account of his business and delivered it to the broker-dealer," the SEC says.

That same morning, Gertrude Pike placed a call to her broker, at another branch office of the same broker-dealer her son used, and bought more than 10,000 shares of Hardees common stock for between $12 and 12.50 a share.

Shortly thereafter -- on the same day -- trading of Hardees stock was suspended pending the announcement of the proposed merger. Trading closed at $16.25 a share.Four days later the announcement of the Pet-Hardee proposed merger was made.

Fike, meanwhile, borrowed $45,000 to meet the margin requirements of her stock purchases. More than a month later she sold 10,000 shares for about $17.50 each. She had made about $46,000 on the sale, the SEC claims.

Yesterday, the SEC announced that Fike, without admitting or denying any of the allegations that she attempted to profit from inside information, agreed to return the $46,000 to the people from whom she purchased the Hardees stock.

The merger also fell apart.