Kiona smiled for the first time since the bombshell, brushing a few bangs absentmindedly from in front of her eyes. “What makes you think I’m working for anyone else? You’re Cole Andrews. The amount that you’ve accomplished in such a short time frame…not to stroke your ego, but if there was someone in the world I wanted to learn from, it would be you.”
There’s something else I wouldn’t mind you stroking. I thought to myself before working quickly to brush the idea aside.
“Transparent flattery’s not a particularly good color on you… Laying it on a little thick there, Kiona.”
“Am I? I wondered if that was perhaps a bit much.”
We shared a brief laugh, making eye contact as we settled back down to business. I steeled my face, and she instantly switched back into complete, stoic professionalism. I understood his game. We were moving past pleasantries. Now, there was nothing left but the negotiation.
“If I was the kind of girl who betrayed a client for money, what use would I be to you, Mr. Andrews?”
“No good at all, I suppose. Kiona, I have an offer for you,” I said with a dead-level voice.
“I already told you everything you’re ever going to know.”
“I’m not talking about your prior business,” I replied, glancing away.
“Oh? The wife thing, was it?” She asked coyly, sipping from her glass. She was stunned a moment ago, but now merely toying with the seemingly ridiculous thought. I admired how quickly she was adapting to this. It reinforced what I had seen in the boardroom, confronted with a table full of executives that could have had her head at any moment.
“I have to make some appearances,” I explained sternly. “Business negotiations, of a sort. I’m selling the company. I’m punching my ticket and retiring. For these negotiations, I have to present a particular type of image…and I require a wife.”
“So why not hire another twenty year old like that girl you took to Cancun last month?” she asked, shooting me a sideways glance. “I saw the pictures in the supermarket aisle. What’s wrong with the blue eyed blond haired bimbo?”
“This has to look real.”
“Are you telling me your wild weekend with Malibu Barbi wasn’t real?” Kiona said, feigning shock. “If you don’t mind me saying it, a fake marriage seems a little beneath you Mr. Andrews…a little cliché, too. You’re the wealthiest bachelor in the country. You’ve probably got women falling all over themselves to kiss your feet. Why fake it? Get a tinder account and go nuts.”
What the hell was I going to tell her? That I’m broken? That I can’t allow myself someone to let me into their heart?
“I chose you because you’re good at what you do, and this way, we both know this is a business transaction. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody falls in love. That’s what I’m good at Kiona. If I was good at personal relationships we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
I let out a little sigh, angry that I’d allowed a hint of frustration into my voice.
“How important are these negotiations of yours?” Kiona asked.
I hesitated. “It will affect every employee I have.”
She pushed the issue. “Positively?”
“Oh yes,” I nodded, watching her. “Very positively. I’ll be disbursing half a billion dollars among staff members as a bonus to hedge against any potential layoffs in the transition period.”
“Half a billion?” she asked incredulously.
“The better part of a million dollars for each and every employee from the janitor to the vice president of the board.”
“I didn’t build one of the world’s largest marketing firms by acting completely sane,” I replied, smirking. “Besides, they deserve it. They are just as responsible for this company’s growth as I am. When this buyout is complete I will have more liquid assets than I could possibly spend in several lifetimes. Why not give back?
“I have your word on all of this?”