The Pretend Girlfriend

By: Lucy Lambert

Leaving her phone on the table, well out of reach of that growing pool of condensation around the bottom of her cup, Gwen rested her chin in her hands and sighed. How was she supposed to continue the hard job of procrastinating with no one to help her?

When she glanced around the coffee shop again, she saw him. At first, she thought it was someone else. What excuse could he possibly have for being out here, rather than back in Manhattan?

But no, Aiden Manning sat at the other side of the Starbucks, sipping at a grande something or other without a lid on, steam rising from the cup, while he checked something on his phone.

Then he looked up, and their eyes met. A spark shot up through Gwen's spine, and her heart sped up. Did he see me? she thought, quickly breaking the stare and looking down at her own phone.

Of course he saw you! she continued. You practically leered at him!

Why he was there didn't really matter. Just that he was, in fact, there. Just to make sure, she slowly, carefully looked up again.

He was still looking right at her. Gwen turned and pretended to watch the foot traffic outside the window, meanwhile putting all her focus on her peripheral vision. Aiden watched her for a few moments longer, then dropped his stare.

Maybe he doesn't recognize me, she thought, maybe he thought I looked familiar, but then decided he doesn't actually know me.

It was a reasonable excuse. And also disconcerting. It offended her that they met just last night and he couldn't remember her. Though she knew that this shouldn't bother her; she wasn't on the market for a man. Especially not one who Beatrice had specifically warned her to stay away from.

Then she thought about it. How could he remember me? She'd been wearing a dress, rather than these street clothes. Her hair had been done differently. She probably did look like a completely different person now.

Yeah, a boring, frumpy looking one, she thought, looking down at the shirt she'd chosen for comfort over looks. It's no wonder he doesn't recognize me.

But then he looked at her again. She sat there, frozen in her chair, wondering what to do, wondering why Beatrice couldn't walk through the door and save her right at that moment.

Still, she couldn't just sit there all day, waiting Aiden out so that she might make her escape.

If he really didn't recognize her, she should just be able to walk right out the door, right?

Right, she thought. Decision made, she stood. His eyes followed her, but she pretended not to notice.

Grabbing up her phone, she made it almost to the door, her heart hammering as the prospect of getting away loomed close.

"It's Gwen, right?"

Aiden stood up from his table, waving. He bumped against his table, sending some of his latte sloshing over the rim.

"Yes," Gwen said, standing in front of the door. She moved over when a woman in a pantsuit brushed by. Meanwhile, she kept thinking: What do I do? What do I do?

Aiden came over to her. "Nice to see you again. Why don't you come sit down with me?"

The small smile that graced his lips did it for her. She agreed, and they sat back down at his table, but not before he grabbed some tissues and mopped up the spilled latte.

"So, do you live around here, then?" Aiden asked.

"Uh huh," Gwen replied. She kept her hands shoved between her thighs, her whole body stiff. This was the exact opposite of what she'd originally intended on happening. She didn't want to have to deal with some jerk guy right now, no matter how handsome he was, or how in the light of day his eyes looked so clear.

Aiden waited a little longer for more, but when it became obvious that Gwen didn't mean to say anything else, he took over.

"I just had some business I needed to take care of on this side of the bridge. I thought some caffeine might be nice. Though, usually I prefer drinking it to spilling it."

"So you're not following me?" Gwen blurted.

"What? No, no. Of course not. Just a happy coincidence."

Gwen nodded, letting herself relax a little. It would be just the thing to happen to her, to get herself a stalker on top of all the other trouble she had.

Aiden seemed different than he'd been last night. He still possessed that quiet air of self assurance, partly at least. Someone so confident in themselves usually didn't go walking into tables in their rush to talk to someone.

No, he definitely was different. Was he nervous? He kept both hands locked around that latte.

She didn't know why, but she began to suspect that every bit of that first impression she'd formed of Aiden was wrong. And to top it all off, she found herself wanting to know what really lurked beneath his supposedly placid waters.

They started talking, then. Both reserved at first, but soon enough Gwen felt her guard drop. There really was a lot more to Aiden than met the eye. Yes, he was the youngest executive his company had ever had (though he declined to say what company), but that wasn't his whole identity. Today, for example, he was over the bridge to make sure a charitable donation his corporation made found its way into the right hands. Though, again, he balked when she asked which charity.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but it feels like we've known each other for a long time," Aiden said. This time when he smiled, she could actually see his teeth. They were white and straight, and really set off his eyes.

Watching Aiden's guard drop was pretty incredible. He turned from this quiet young man with cold eyes and a head for business to a warm and thoughtful person who cared about something other than his company's bottom line.

"I know what you mean. Hey, you should smile like that more," she said.

As though becoming aware of his own actions, Aiden pressed his lips together. He started in again on how this charity project meant so much to him, and that he was trying to get rid of his company's unfortunate reputation of not living up to its philanthropic promises. Genuine anger flared in his eyes when he mentioned that, and again she wondered just who it was he worked for, and why it was such a big deal. It was good though; many people don't have the passion in them to get truly upset or happy about anything. It was an attractive quality, and one she hadn't really expected from him. But she couldn't deny that rapport developing between them.

He'd shared so much, she decided to as well, telling him about growing up in Albany and then moving to the city to go to school.

Without really meaning to, she even told him about her current troubles with her apartment. She regretted it right away, thinking he might take it as some gold digging attempt. Nothing in this conversation, indeed, nothing about Aiden Manning, really went according to her initial expectations.

And she definitely did not expect what he said next. He pursed his lips for a moment, glanced up at her, back down to his latte, then up at her again as though he came to a decision.

"This is going to sound strange. Really strange, even. But I need your help."

In spite of herself, Gwen sat up straight at the edge of her seat. What could he possibly want from me?

"What? I mean, you're rich, right? How could I possibly help you...?" she started.

"I'm thinking we can help each other, actually... No, wait, let me get this out first before you say anything else. As you've probably noticed, I have a bit of a reputation as a loner. And it's getting in my way in more ways than one. Wow, this is harder than I thought. What I am trying to say is, I want to hire you to pretend to be my girlfriend."

Gwen didn't really know how to process that. She'd been expecting maybe an invitation for a date, something along those lines.

But he just sat across from her, considering her with those cold eyes of his. For just a few moments, she thought that he might be joking, but those eyes told her it was no joke.

No, he was deadly serious.

"Excuse me?" she said, hoping that maybe she'd misheard.

"We both have problems, and I'm of the opinion that we can help each other. How much did you say they wanted again...?" Aiden started, reaching into his jacket and producing a thin, black leather-bound checkbook.

"Do I look like a hooker to you?" Gwen said. She said it through her teeth. Anger, searing its way up through her, gave her cheeks a hot flush. Though Gwen couldn't be sure of the exact source of the feeling. Was it that he was actually propositioning her? Or might it be anger at herself for beginning to think that maybe she could like this guy?

Both and more, she decided.

"Sorry?" Aiden said, pausing in opening the checkbook. His eyebrows knit together.

He really doesn't see, she thought, he really doesn't understand what he just did. There really was something weird about him. And Beatrice was right, it seemed.

This time, she made certain that he heard.

"I said, do you think I am a hooker or something?"

The conversations in the Starbucks died down, and Gwen could feel all the eyes in the coffee shop watching her table. She didn't care. Well, at least not enough to cool off quite yet.

"No, I don't. I think there's been some measure of miscommunication going on here..." Aiden said. He reached out for her hand, but Gwen snatched it back and practically leapt up from her chair.

"What is wrong with you? You know, if you'd just asked me out, I probably would have said yes! But this... I can't believe you asked me that. And what do you mean you don't? You just propositioned me and got out your checkbook! You know what? Beatrice was right about you; you are a jerk."

Aiden started to say something, but Gwen picked up her cup of ice water and threw it in his face.

People started clapping, and she realized she'd been screaming those last few sentences.

Top Books