Bargaining with the Bride(9)

By: Allison Gatta

“Fraud. Something.”

“I looked over his papers last night. By all accounts, he was sick when he’d first told me. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave a sick person. We’d already been together for two years. It was just…” She spread her hands out wide on the table between them and he fought back the strange urge to grasp her hand and comfort her.

Instead, he stood to pour their coffee, saying over his shoulder, “Anyone in your position would have done the same thing. He took advantage of you. I’m sure your parents would understand if you told them that.”

“I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand. People are coming to this wedding. Planes have been booked. Hotels have been called. Food has been ordered. At this point, getting divorced would be easier than calling this thing off. My parents will say it’s just another one of my colossal screw-ups. They call me Wreck-it Rachael, for god’s sake.” He placed a coffee cup in front of her and then she lifted it to her lips, blowing over the rim to cool the steaming liquid.

He resumed his seat and stirred his own black coffee, thinking over the options. As far as he could tell, she’d already made up her mind. From what he knew of Rachael’s determination, that would mean he didn’t stand a chance of convincing her otherwise.

Still…he couldn’t bear to lose her. She was a great employee. Smart, considerate, attentive. What would he do if she wasn’t there to share coffee with in the morning? How could he find another person to deal with his constantly changing demands as well as she did?

For the first time in his corporate career, he was at an impasse, so he tried one last time. "If that’s the case, then I don’t know why you’d go running back to them. There has to be something I can do. To help you and to keep you here."

Her tinkling laugh woke him from his thoughts. "Unless you can find someone who'll pretend to marry me in the next month and give me enough money to support my sister, I don't know what you could do to change my mind."

He looked the smile on her face. It was the kind that faltered just the slightest bit when he wasn't looking directly at her. His mind whirred with possibilities

Maybe there was an option after all…

It shouldn't be too hard to find a stand in. She was pretty, after all. Curly gold hair, brown eyes, knockout figure. Guys would start lining up to be her real husband if she asked them in a short enough skirt.

If they did that, though, she might end up with a creep. Besides, he didn't know anyone he could walk up to and ask for such a big favor. That was the kind of job for someone who already knew her. Someone who had at least a basic understanding of what she was like. And he knew someone who fit the bill. He settled back into his metal chair and surveyed her still-sleepy dark eyes over the rim of his coffee cup. It was crazy, sure. But just crazy enough to work.

"What if I did it?" he asked in his most casual tone, and then sipped his coffee.

She didn't play along with his cool, though. Instead, her eyes widened to full alertness and she sat down her mug in order to stare at him. "What if you what?" She asked, her tone caught somewhere between astonishment and amusement.

"I could pose as your husband, we'll fake the wedding, and I’ll give you a bonus big enough for your sister to get away from your parents." Piece of cake. Boom goes the dynamite.

"That's the craziest thing I've ever heard." She laughed, but her expression was more curious than dismissive. Like she was appraising him. Waiting to hear more.

She was on the hook. He just had to reel her in.

"It's not that crazy, and what does it hurt?"

"Well, for one, you won't be able to convince my family that you're my fiancé. We're work friends and all, but I don't think you can manage to fool everyone I know." She didn't say it, but he heard the question that came after her words.

Could he?

And that was a question he knew the answer to, "Oh, I think I can." It would take some studying, but he could be someone's fiancé. How hard was that? He had degrees from the foremost universities in the world. He ran his own highly successful corporation. Compared to all that, this would be a game.

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