Page 65 of Buying the Bride

I have always prided myself on professional behavior. I have countless colleagues who could attest to it, but to ask them to put themselves at risk because of these rumors would be unfair to them. To those who know me, I hope you know that I would never behave in such a way. To those who don’t know me, you may make your own judgment.

Just recently, I did something for the first time that I would consider to be unprofessional. I crossed a line I have never crossed before. But I don’t regret it. I have found the love of my life, and if I have to live with these rumors for the rest of my life, I will. Because they don’t matter, and we know the truth.

I almost cried when I read that last paragraph, and then I kissed him. Now, he pulls me back against him, and I pull away. “Careful, you’re going to ruin the design.”

I’m completely naked, and just like he suggested at the restaurant, I’m covered in diamonds. Not real, but they look real enough.

“I look forward to removing every one of these later. Slowly.”

I laugh. “I’m looking forward to that too, but let’s do this first.”

We transformed the gallery into what looks like a royal throne room, the outside walls covered with giant photographs that we took yesterday. Andrew called in every favor he could, and his employees came and some friends, too. The photos are of the two of us in different situations, and in every one, I am a queen. I was right, Andrew is an amazing model, and even though we were frenzied, we had a good time. I want to do more of that when we have more time.

There’s a photo to match—and counteract—every accusation. A photo of me at a table of food eating a huge meal while Andrew has none. A photo of me locking him in a dungeon and throwing away the key. A photo of him sitting by my feet while I sit on a throne. Others too. It’s a strong statement, that I’m not only a queen but his queen. Something we hope will back up his words that appeared online this morning.

And then there are the final photos. Taken late last night after we kicked everyone out of the studio. Andrew worshiping the queen’s body. Pictures that are scandalous and verging on indecency, but they’re my favorite. I didn’t know that I could look like that.

And now, in a few minutes, I’m going to sit in the gallery in nothing but diamonds. We’ve agreed that Andrew shouldn’t be seen. That the work and his words should speak for themselves. That also works to my advantage, for the little addition I’ve added. Near the entrance to the gallery, a list of names. Hundreds of people who have worked with Andrew and Maya, and agreed that he is nothing like what she claimed. People willing to put their reputations on the line for him. It’s clearly labeled, and right at the front of the gallery so you can’t miss it.

“Okay,” he says. “Good luck.”

I lean up to kiss him. “We don’t need luck.”

Lounging on the throne, I hear the doors open and the drone of voices as people pour inside. I hear the shocked gasps as people see the list of names, and their impressed whispers as they enter the throne room. In the other shows I’ve done for Andrew, I’ve been moving. Not this time. I’m frozen on the throne, the diamonds on my skin scattering the light in patterns across the walls. I see cameras and microphones—the press are the first people in the door—and I hope that we’ve made a difference. I hope that this will stop the bleeding. Andrew’s reputation may never be spotless, but at least it won’t be destroyed.

People seem to like the exhibit, and as time wears on, I begin to relax. We set a limited time for this, just a couple of hours. We don’t need a huge audience, just the ones that will get the word out. There’s a commotion near the door, and I have to fight the urge to move as Maya walks in. I thought she might show up, but I was not prepared for the way anger rises up in my chest, threatening to strangle me.

Suddenly the air in the room feels tight, and the cameras and microphones are all on her as she approaches me. I meet her eyes, unsure of what she’s going to do. Unsure if I should break character.

There’s a mocking smirk on her face as she takes me in. She doesn’t speak loudly, but the whole room can hear her. “You pulled this together quickly. Did you even sleep?”