The Billionaire's Temporary Bride

By: Avery James

Jack held out his hand. "Nice to meet you, I'm Jack Coburn," he said.

How many people see that look in his eyes on a daily basis? Charlotte wondered. It had to be in the hundreds. How many people does he meet and forget just as quickly? It had to be almost all of them. Charlotte took his hand. "Hi, so Callie just told me that I'm apparently going to be your wife." Charlotte held her breath as she waited for his reaction.

Jack's eyes widened, and he choked down a gulp of his drink. "Uhh," he said. He looked over to Callie and Logan to see whether or not Charlotte was serious. When they didn't react, he searched for something to say. "I guess a handshake is a little impersonal then, isn't it?" he added, cracking a smile.

"We have to start somewhere, I guess. I'm Charlotte Crowley," she said, her hand still resting in his. She pretended for a moment like she was one of those people who believed in the power of a firm handshake, and she shook his hand vigorously while staring him in the eye. After about ten seconds, she joined Jack in looking to Callie for any way to break the awkward moment.

"Jack Coburn at a loss for words," Callie said. "Logan, can you believe this?"

"Let's get out of the way before he thinks of something witty," Logan said. He wrapped his arm around Callie and headed back toward the bar.

"Looks like it's just you and me," Jack said. He slipped his hand from hers and gestured to the door. "Would you like to come for a walk with me? I like to at least talk to my wives before we marry."

It was an interesting offer. "Don't you have a security detail or something we'll have to duck?"

"I'm a congressman. There are hundreds of us buzzing around the city. Other than a few photographers who want pictures of Baby Jack, the last living golden boy of America's Favorite Political Dynasty, no one really cares who I am."

"Baby Jack?" Charlotte asked.

"My family is in the press a lot. In the year I was born, they were in it even more. It's kind of a long story, and I don't want to bore you with the details, but just know that for my entire life, people have expected great things of me, and just as many people have eagerly waited for me to fail or to disgrace myself somehow. I took over my father's seat in Congress, and now everyone wants me to do what he hadn't been able to do. Everybody wants to be famous, but they have no idea how terrible the press can be."

"Then why bother getting engaged? Surely, it'll lead to even more press."

"They want a story. They don't care what it is. They just need something to publish. I need a wife, you need whatever it is you need, and they need photos of me with a beautiful woman. If we do this, everyone wins, not that I'm saying we're doing this, more as a hypothetical."

"Did you just call me beautiful?" Charlotte asked. "You know, for someone this smooth, you'd think you wouldn't need to hire a wife."

Jack looked around and lowered his voice. "Maybe it would be better if we didn't phrase it like that. I asked Amy and Callie to make arrangements for me specifically so I could avoid all of the baggage that comes with a traditional relationship."

"Baggage… You think finding the person you're meant to be with is baggage? You can't really believe that."

"I just think that people are so desperate to be in love that they'll lie to themselves to be happy for a while. I don't want to do that."

"Everyone, no matter how hard they try to hide it, wants to find love. Usually those who try hardest to seem uninterested are the ones who want love the most."

"Walk with me and I'll convince you otherwise," Jack said.

Charlotte looked across the room at Callie and Logan. They were laughing about something and looking at each other in complete contentment. Charlotte turned her attention back to Jack. "You have twenty minutes."

Jack led her out through the back exit of the bar into one of the countless alleys that crisscrossed the city. The sun had set, and the brick kiln that was Georgetown in summer had cooled to the point where it was actually pleasant to walk. Jack nodded up toward the street. "Before someone thinks we're up to no good, let's get going."

"I thought that was exactly what we were up to," Charlotte said.

"Yeah, but that's no reason for anyone to know. Let's just look like a couple on a lovely first date," he said. "I know a spot by the river with benches and a view. It's crowded during the day, but at this time of night, we should have it more or less to ourselves. Take my hand again, and I'll show you the way."

Charlotte stopped for a moment and thought it through. It had been a long time since she had been on a real date. And she had certainly never been on one with someone like Jack. She felt a little tremble in her hand as she thought about it. Suddenly, she was all nerves, and she didn't want him to know. The sound of the crowds on M Street echoed off of the buildings, and she could smell the sweet smoke from a wood oven somewhere nearby. Instead of taking his hand, she said, "Callie made it sound like you'd sweep me off my feet and show me the secret world of the DC elite."

"I mean, I'd have to teach you the secret handshake first," Jack said, "but, even then, no one would believe you were a member of the club. Not looking like that anyway."

Did he really just make fun of my dress? Charlotte wondered. "Some of us have to live in the real world and don't have unlimited budgets or tailors on call."

Jack backed up and held his hands in front of him. "No, no, I didn't mean it like that at all. I just meant that you look too… nice, too wholesome for all of the DC politics stuff. We'd have to harden you first. It was supposed to be a compliment. Sometimes I forget that not everyone is jaded and cynical. That's all."

"I guess I understand why you're still single," Charlotte said. Based off the concern in his voice, she believed him, but she liked having a chance to keep him a little off-balance. It seemed like the only leverage she had in their current situation. She nodded forward and started walking as Jack hurried to keep up with her.

"How about we try again?" Jack said. "Amy and Callie speak very highly of you."

"Come on. They worry that I'll end up homeless in a gutter without their help. Have you even heard my name before tonight?"

Jack cracked a smile and shook his head. "No, but now that I know it, I promise I won't forget. So why do the Haven sisters think you need their help?"

"To be honest, they think that about everyone." Charlotte loved Callie like a sister, but Callie could be overbearing at times. Callie's actual sister, Amy, was even worse. Charlotte just wanted to take care of her own problems without anyone else's assistance.

"Why you, though?" Jack asked.

"I got laid off, and I've been too busy helping out with the wedding to find a new job. I was an assistant editor at a small literary press. I loved the job, but it was never exactly going to make me rich, not that I care about that. I've been thinking about changing careers and trying something new, but I don't know if I'm ready to strike out on my own. And now that Callie moved out, I need to find a new roommate."

"Naturally, they thought of me," Jack said.

Callie laughed. "No offense, but you're not exactly the kind of roommate I'm looking for. I don't know why they think the answer to all of life's problems is to get hitched."

"Wouldn't it solve your problems though?"

"I'm 29," Charlotte said. "Do I really want to spend the best years of my life pretending to be someone's wife, giving up any shot I have at finding real love?"

"What would you rather do instead?" Jack asked.

"Open my own small press, write a book, end up homeless in the gutter — I have options."

"Well, that would be a shame," Jack said.

"I'm not actually going to end up sleeping in a gutter. My best friend owns a mansion in the middle of Georgetown. My parents would welcome me back home in a heartbeat. Sure, it's nothing compared to the life of the Jack Coburn, but I have options. Alright, enough about me, why don't you tell me something about yourself that no one else knows."

Jack looked around. He spoke as if he was telling her the scoop of the century, a boyish grin on his face. "There are things about my past you can't know, parts of my personal life that are off limits. It's something that wouldn't be a fair thing to ask in a traditional marriage, which is why I'm not asking for one. I'm asking you to spend time with me, and in return, I'll help you do whatever you want afterward."

"Well, Mr. Mysterious, that's the opposite of telling me something no one else knows."

"Fine," Jack said, his hands up almost in defense, "I'm a terrible liar. I hate lying. I hate holding back any little bit of information. It eats me up inside. I hate the grind of DC, and I hate asking you to do this, but yet, here I am." He ended with another grin, but this one more hesitant, as if waiting to see what her reaction would be.

She laughed, "You've got to be kidding! You lie for a living. You're asking me to help you lie so you can win an election. She smiled and looked up at him, her eyes narrowing, her lips pursed, "and you're not being very persuasive, by the way."

"See?" Jack said, throwing his hands in the air, "I'm terrible at it. If I were good, we'd already be planning our honeymoon and picking out baby names." He grinned and looked into Charlotte's eyes.

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