Temporary Wife : A Billionaire Fake Marriage Romance, страница 1
A Billionaire Fake Marriage Romance
Text copyright © 2017 Tara Crescent
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
My editor Jim takes the comma-filled words that emerge from my keyboard and shapes it into a story worth reading. As always, my undying gratitude.
Additional thanks for Miranda’s laser-sharp eyes.
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Boyfriend by the Hour
This steamy, romantic story contains a dominant hero who’s pretending to be an escort, and a sassy heroine who’s given up on real relationships.
I can’t believe I have the hots for an escort.
Cole Mitchell is ripped, bearded, sexy and dominant. When he moves next door to me, I find it impossible to resist sampling the wares.
But Cole’s not a one-woman kind of guy, and I won’t share.
She thinks I’m an escort. I’m not.
I thought I’d do anything to sleep with Sadie. Then I realized I want more. I want Sadie. Forever.
I’m not the escort she thinks I am.
Now, I just have to make sure she never finds out.
Fake marriages have rules. We break all of them.
Ryder Drake is the devil.
The billionaire architect exudes power and privilege from every pore in his body. Toronto magazines fawn over him, calling him one of the hottest single men in the city.
Color me unimpressed. Ryder’s new skyscraper will cut off access to the waterfront for all but the ultra-rich, and I’m determined to stop it.
Then he asks me to marry him.
It’s a business deal, nothing more. He needs a fake wife and I need money. It should be uncomplicated.
Rule 1: No kissing.
Rule 2: No sex.
Rule 3: No falling in love.
I break the first rule within the hour. The second rule? I last less than a week before I give in to Ryder’s raw, animal magnetism. Repeatedly. Before the wedding. After the wedding. With toys. Without toys. I’m having the best, naughtiest, steamiest sex of my life.
And rule 3? I’m Ryder’s temporary wife. No matter what happens, I can’t forget that our marriage isn’t real.
Brad’s your friend. You’ve known him almost all your life. You like him. It would be wrong to strangle him right now. The jail time just isn't worth it.
That’s what I tried to tell myself as I ran my fingers through my windswept hair and tried to regain a measure of composure before entering the room. The bus had been delayed, and on the subway, we’d been packed in like sardines. It had taken me an hour and a half to make it to City Hall. Worst of all, my boss had offered me some overtime work at the last minute, and I had to turn him down because of this stupid meeting. And God knew I needed every extra cent.
Not that Brad would ever acknowledge it, but he owed me.
“You’re late,” Brad said when he saw me. I suppose he thought that was a greeting.
“Hello to you too, Brad,” I said dryly. Brad’s eyes glinted, and his hands were clenched at his sides. I could recognize the signs well enough. Brad Wexley was psyching himself up for the upcoming confrontation with Drake & Partners.
His next words confirmed my hunch. “Ryder Drake isn’t going to win today,” he said.
I made a noncommittal noise in my throat. Brad might have thought we had a chance, but I had a more realistic assessment of our odds. Today’s meeting at City Hall was supposedly being held to solicit public opinion about the Drake Towers project, but the harsh reality was that it didn’t matter what the residents of the city thought. Drake & Partners had more than enough votes in city council to ensure that their mixed-use part-commercial, part-residential project, would get the approval to go ahead, creating yet another concrete blight on Toronto’s waterfront.
It was pointless to say any of that to Brad though. He never listened. “We’re going to give it our best shot,” I said instead, my voice encouraging.
“You should have worn something else,” he continued as if I hadn't spoken, looking at my outfit critically. “You don’t look camera ready.”
I stifled an exhale of irritation. I hadn’t wanted to come today. My brain was consumed with worry about the impending prospect of homelessness. Last night, I’d opened what appeared to be yet another overdue property tax notice from the city, only to discover that it was an eviction notice. If I didn’t come up with two hundred thousand dollars in ninety days, the city was going to seize my grandmother’s home and put it on the auction block. This construction project was not the most important thing in my life. Not even close.
“I don’t have anything else,” I snapped. “I came straight from work.”
“Fine.” Perhaps he recognized from my voice that I was at the end of my tether because he didn’t press the issue. Instead, he turned around and surveyed the crowd with a satisfied smile. “This is going to play really well on TV,” he said smugly. “Ryder Drake is going to have no idea what hit him. The media loves stories about the rich stealing from the ordinary folk. Makes for good ratings.”
I rolled my eyes. Brad could be remarkably tone-deaf sometimes. Ordinary folk my ass. He’d inherited a chunk of money from his parents and owned his house outright. If he was ordinary folk, I was the Empress of Egypt.
As I contemplated the best way to tell Brad off, a sudden hush fell over the crowd. I turned to see the mayor walk in, along with Bianca Russo, city councilor of the affected ward. But it wasn’t them my eyes were drawn to. It was the man walking at their side, wearing a suit that probably cost more than I made in a year. A man who exuded power and wealth and privilege from every pore in his body. A man I recognized from a fawning Toronto Life feature on the hottest single men in the city. A man who, in his mid-twenties had moved to London, founded his own architecture firm, and grown it into one of Europe’s leading design houses, making millions of dollars along the way, before moving back to Toronto two years ago.
Ryder Drake, the lead architect and majority-owner of Drake & Partners, the mastermin
Next to me, Brad was looking pole-axed. “Did you know he’d be here?” he whispered to me. There was a note of panic in his voice. Brad had counted on being able to make his case to the TV cameras without someone to argue the other side.
“The devil takes care of its own,” I whispered back in a low voice.
When I looked at the stage once again, Ryder Drake’s dark eyes were resting on me, and his mouth was compressed into a tight line.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn he had heard me.
When my eyes rested on the woman in the front row, with long caramel-colored hair pulled back in a ponytail, I knew the evening wasn’t a total bust.
“This is a waste of time,” I’d complained earlier in the day to Laurel Khan, the woman in charge of PR for Drake Towers. “Council’s going to vote next week, and Manny tells me we have the votes we need.”
“Manny is a lawyer,” she’d replied. “He doesn’t have his ear to the ground. I do. There’s a group of concerned citizens who are creating quite a stir about our project. I’ve heard through the grapevine that they’ve got TV crews at the town hall meeting.” She looked stressed. “They’ll play this like we don’t care about the little guys. You’ve got to go and argue our side.”
“Fine.” I didn’t have to go - I owned the fucking company, and I didn’t need to do anything I didn’t want to do. Except I really wanted to build Drake Towers. Call me vain, but I wanted to make a mark on the city I’d grown up in.
The woman in the front row was beautiful, but beautiful women were a dime a dozen in my life. She was glaring at me as if she hated me, also a reaction that I’d seen before. There was no obvious reason I couldn’t take my eyes away from her, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away.
“Ryder,” Bianca interrupted, giving me a wide smile that made me uneasy. “Shall we get going?”
“Sure.” I dragged my mind back to the matter at hand. My instincts were telling me that Bianca Russo was going to be trouble, and I couldn’t afford to be distracted by a pretty face.
The initial portion of the meeting was as dry as toast. The mayor’s speech almost had me nodding off. When Bianca took to the podium, I paid more attention. She had no reason to oppose the project, but we had history, the two of us. From past experience, I knew she wasn’t always rational about these things.
Sure enough, Bianca finished her prepared address and looked at the audience. “I know that some of you have questions and comments for Drake & Partners,” she said, with a smirk in my direction. “We are fortunate to have Ryder Drake himself with us today. He’s the architect of the project, and is more than qualified to address any issues you might have with it.”
Any issues you might have. The way she phrased it, it was almost an invitation for the audience to complain. My expression stayed neutral, but in the back row, Laurel frowned. Bianca’s words weren’t a ringing endorsement. She wanted something, and I had a feeling I’d find out what that was soon enough. Damn it. Bianca had a block of councilors that voted in lockstep with her. If she wanted to, she could make things very uncomfortable for us.
My brown-haired girl got to her feet. “If I might make a statement,” she said softly. The guy next to her, a scruffy, hipster-type with the requisite flannel shirt and dark wash jeans gave her a supportive pat on her shoulder, and my eyes narrowed. Who the fuck was this guy, and more importantly, why did I care?
“My name is Zoe Robinson, and I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life,” she started. “When I was a little girl, we didn’t have a lot of money, but I never felt poor. I could play in the park on the waterfront to my heart’s content, never having to worry that I wasn’t welcome.”
Her tone turned steely. “Unfortunately,” she continued, “with the Drake Towers project, that park will become a thing of the past. Access to the waterfront will be reserved for the rich, and our children will have no place to play.” She gave me a pointed look. “Toronto is becoming a city with no room for the working poor,” she said. “I ask the city not to make it worse by approving this project.”
Zoe Robinson was good. So much more than a pretty face. She had an authenticity that was impossible to fake, and it was obvious that she spoke from her heart. When she finished, the audience burst out in loud, enthusiastic applause. Other speakers followed her, telling their own stories about the vacant lot that was the future home of Drake Towers, but none of them had the impact that she did.
Finally, when everyone had finished speaking, the man sitting next to Zoe got to his feet, a challenging look on his face. “Mr. Drake,” he said loudly, “What kind of accommodations does Drake & Partners plan on making so that ordinary citizens will continue to have access to the lake?”
Fury rose in me, swift and sure. This wasn’t a town hall meeting - this was an ambush. Hipster Guy wasn’t speaking to me. He was speaking to the TV cameras in the room. And I’d bet money that Bianca had known about this.
Laurel deserved a raise. Our original plan had been to send a young PR rep called Josh to this meeting, and he would have floundered, badly.
Not me. I’d sat at the negotiating table many times in my life, and I didn’t lose very often. I knew how to play this crowd, and it was by doing the unexpected. I pushed back the anger I was feeling at Bianca’s duplicity and got to my feet, smiling pleasantly at the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “I can assure you that we have no intention of blocking off access to the lake.” Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. A city by-law mandated that the public must have access to the water. “Furthermore, while our original set of plans didn’t include one, after listening to all the speakers tonight, I’m convinced that adding a public park and a playground to our design is the right thing to do.”
I kept my eyes on the audience, smirking inwardly at Hipster Guy’s obvious dismay. He hadn’t expected me to accede to his demands.
Bianca was looking like a problem.
I couldn’t let this group of citizens become another one.
“That’s such a lovely dress, Zoe. You look beautiful.” My grandmother’s voice was filled with emotion, and hearing it, my heart contracted. God, I loved her.
I’d been fighting the urge to burst into tears all week. I’d talked to the bureaucrats in charge of property tax payments more than five times. Each time, I shelved my pride and flat out pleaded for an extension. But their answers had been the same. You’ve had plenty of extensions. Time’s up.
Like a coward, I still hadn’t told my grandmother the news. How could I? Nelly Robinson had been on a pension when her daughter had given birth and skipped out on her newborn child. She’d sacrificed everything to take care of me. Falling behind on her property taxes - that was all my fault.
And I couldn’t fix it. The moment I found out about the ballooning debt, I’d abandoned plans for college. I’d found a job as a receptionist in a law office, and I’d used every bit of spare money I earned to try to chip away at the two-hundred-thousand dollar tax payment. But receptionists don’t make a lot of money, and my contributions had barely made a dent.
I’d hoped - in vain - that the city would see my payments as a sign of good faith. They hadn’t. In eighty-three days, we’d be out on the streets. My grandmother would lose her childhood home. It was hard to breathe through the guilt I felt.
“You bought me the fabric,” I said, smiling fondly at her. I couldn’t let her see my worry. The emerald green silk fabric had been a birthday present last year. “And you taught me how to sew.”
Her hand traced the outline of my cheek. “You don’t dress up often,” she said. “You should. You spend too much time with me.”
I laughed. “You’re far better company than most people I know.”
Her hands expertly gathered my hair into a bundle, and she started pinning the s
“Brad wants me to go to a gala with him.” I made a face. Brad had received invitations to the Drake & Partners spring bash, and he had plans of making some kind of protest at the venue. As always, I had wanted no part of it. I thought it was shockingly rude to go to a party and insult the hosts. But of course, Brad didn’t know how to take no for an answer, and I was never very good at standing up to him. “I wish I didn’t have to go.”
“I don’t like that boy.” My grandmother’s eyes met mine in the mirror.
I grinned at her label. Brad was a grown man in his thirties, but to my grandmother, he was a boy, and I would always be her little girl. “Why not?” Though she was very protective of me, she generally didn’t voice an opinion of my friends unless I asked.