Somehow he’d moved back into the foyer, where she’d remained. He was close. Too close. When he reached out to sweep hair from her cheek, she jumped.

“Whoa there, darlin’. See, that’s not how married people act. They touch each other. A lot.” There was that killer smile, and it communicated all the scandalous images doubtlessly swimming through his head. “And, honey, they like to touch each other. You’re going to have to get used to it.”

Right. She unclenched her fists.

They’d have to pretend to be lovey-dovey in public, and they’d have to practice in private. But she didn’t have to start this very minute.

She stepped back, away from the electricity sparking between her and this man she’d deny to her grave being attracted to. The second she gave in, it was all over. Feelings would start to creep in and heartbreak would follow. “The house will do. I’ll split the rent with you.”

With a raised eyebrow, he said, “What about the ring? You haven’t even looked at it.”

“As long as it’s round, it’s fine, too.”

“I might have to get it sized. Here, try it.” He flipped open the lid and plucked out a whole lot of sparkle. When he slid it on her finger, she nearly bit her tongue to keep a stupid female noise of appreciation from slipping out. The ring fit perfectly and caught the sunlight from the open front door, igniting a blaze in the center of the marble-size diamond.

“Flashy. Exactly what I would have picked out.” She tilted her hand in the other direction to set off the fiery rainbow again.

“Is that your subtle way of demonstrating yet again how much you need me?” He chuckled. “Women don’t pick out their own engagement rings. Men do. This one says Lucas Wheeler in big letters.”

No, it said Lucas Wheeler’s Woman in big letters.

For better or worse, that’s what she’d asked to be for the next six months, and the ring would serve as a hefty reminder to her and everyone else. She had proposed a partnership; she just hadn’t expected it to be fifty-fifty. Furthermore, she’d royally screwed up by not thinking through how to present a fake marriage as real to the rest of the world.

Lucas had been right there, filling in the gaps, picking up the slack and doing his part. She should embrace what he brought to the table instead of fighting him, which meant she had to go all the way.

“I’ll take the contracts to my lawyer this afternoon. As is.”

Cia Wheeler. It made her skin crawl.

But she was perfectly capable of maintaining her independence, no matter what else Lucas threw at her. It was only a name, and with the trust money in her bank account, the shelter her mother never had a chance to build would become a reality. That was the true link to her parents, and she’d change her name back the second the divorce was final. “When can we move in?”


Cia eased into her grandfather’s study, tiptoeing in deference to his bowed head and scribbling hand, but his seventy-year-old faculties hadn’t dimmed in the slightest. He glanced up from the desk, waved her in and scratched out another couple of sentences on his yellow legal pad. Paper and pen, same as he’d used for decades. Benicio Allende owned one of the premier technology companies in the world, yet remained firmly entrenched in the past.

A tiny bit of guilt over the lie she was about to tell him curled her toes.

Abuelo folded his hands and regarded her with his formidable deep-set gaze. “What brings you by today?”

Of course he cut right to the purpose of her unusual visit, and she appreciated it. A dislike of extraneous decorum was the only thing they had in common. When she’d come to live with him after her parents’ accident, the adjustment had been steep on both sides. Prior to that, he’d been just as much her dad’s boss as her dad’s father. She’d long since stopped wishing for a grandfather with mints in his pocket and a twinkly smile.

Instead, she’d gleaned everything she could from him about how to succeed.

“Hello, Abuelo. I have some news. I’m getting married.” Better leave it at that. He’d ask questions to get the pertinent information.

Their stiff holiday dinners and occasional phone calls had taught her not to indulge in idle chatter, especially not about her personal life. Nothing made him more uncomfortable than the subject of his granddaughter dating.

“To whom?”

“Lucas Wheeler.” Whose diamond glittered from her third finger, weighing down her hand. She’d almost forgotten the ring that morning and had had to dash back to slip it on. A happily engaged woman wouldn’t even have taken it off. “Of Wheeler Family Partners.”