Page 13 of Buying the Bride

“Stayed up all night going through it,” I admit. There was a lot, and it was strange reading about a life that is supposed to be mine yet I’ve never experienced any of it. I found myself wishing I was that girl who went to wine tastings with him in Napa Valley, who sat on the rooftop of the apartment building watching the sunset. The girl in that folder is happy and carefree. She has a man who loves her dearly and who also respects her. She doesn’t have to scrimp and save every penny just to survive on toxic food or suffer through an equally toxic relationship. She’s able to go and do things, experience life on a whole different level. Must be nice to live like the girl I’m pretending to be.

“Good. You’ll be meeting my family tomorrow night,” Heath says.

“What? Already?” For some reason I thought I’d have a little more time to prepare, to perfect my character. I don’t know how to be a wealthy person. There are rules, mannerisms. Rich people hold themselves a specific way, head up, chin out. And there’s a certain arrogance to them that comes from either getting too much attention as a child, or not enough. At this point his family will never believe that I am anything more than who I am: a jobless, penniless, desperate girl pretending to be in love with a man who has more money than God.

“I’m afraid so. They got into town earlier than I was expecting,” he says.

My head’s spinning. The elevator feels like it’s moving at warp speed. I sway. Heath catches me before my knees buckle and he holds me in his sturdy arms. Damn, he smells good. I put my forehead against his chest to keep the elevator car from going in circles.

He starts to stroke my hair. It feels good and comforting. One of his hands slips down to my bare shoulders. My body comes alive from his touch and I find myself with temporary amnesia. I’m no longer thinking about his family or my duties. Right now, all I know is that he’s touching me and I want more.

Then the elevator opens, and he steps away from me. “Are you all right?” he asks.

I nod. “I’m fine.”

We step out of the elevator which leads us directly into the condo. This place is as big as two houses. Windows wrap around, giving us a stunning panoramic view of the city below. The floors are white polished marble tile. The furniture is also white. The leather couches are all straight lines and hard edges. They’re beautiful but don’t look like they’d be very comfortable to sit on.

The wallpapered walls are covered in beautiful art pieces just like in the lobby. This entire place looks like an art piece. That, or a showroom. I can’t believe people actually live like this.

He gives me the grand tour, which is definitely grand. In the wing he’s calling mine, there’s even a library. I feel just like Belle from Beauty and the Beast—if the beast were the sexiest man alive.

“What’s mine is yours. As long as you’re working for me, you have free rein of the place.”

His smile stirs that needy place deep in my core and I find myself imagining him walking around this place wearing nothing but that sexy smile.

“Thank you,” I say.

I ask myself yet again why this gorgeous man is pretending to be engaged and getting married when he could have the real thing with any woman of his choosing. He’s beautiful, obviously brilliant to have gotten this far in life. He doesn’t need to pretend.

“Is it off-limits to ask why you need a fake bride? Clearly you don’t need one. You’re gorgeous, and smart, and kind …”

His eyebrows lift and I blush.

“I’m almost thirty-years-old and my mother thinks I’m lonely and she’s always trying to set me up with someone, so any possible free night I might have is spent on mindless dates trying to pretend to be interested in some pampered brat’s little purse dog. My father thinks a man without a wife is irresponsible and not planning well enough for the future. He’s constantly checking up on me. I just want them off my back for once in my life. I figure if they think I’m married, they’ll leave me alone. They live out of the country and I rarely see them, so they won’t know the difference for some time. When they come back, I’ll give them some sob story about how things didn’t work with my marriage, and hopefully that will be the end of their meddling,” he says.