The Billionaire's Temporary Bride

By: Avery James

Instead, they had delivered a red head who wore glasses, who was soft spoken and with whom he felt an instant intimacy and understanding. When Callie had proposed the whole marriage of convenience thing, he had balked. After meeting Charlotte, he was intrigued.

She didn't seem to give a damn about his money or his power. He liked that, but was that really enough to justify asking her to spend a year and a half pretending to be his wife? She seemed like a genuinely nice person, someone who didn't need or want the attention of being a public figure. He had expected someone different, a marriage mercenary. Someone who would turn on the charm in public and treat the rest like a business deal, but Charlotte? He could tell right away that she wasn't like that. He just didn't know if that was good or bad.

Jack paced back and forth across the room waiting for Charlotte to arrive. The minutes seemed to drag by, and she couldn't get there soon enough. He hadn't heard from her since that walk along the river, and the question of how she was leaning with regards to the marriage contract was driving him crazy. While passing the head table, he noticed that he and Charlotte had been seated across the room from each other. He picked her placard up and read it.

"Charlotte Crowley," he whispered to himself. "Charlotte Coburn," he repeated in his head. Mrs. Charlotte Coburn. Mr. and Mrs. Jack Coburn. Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Charlotte Coburn. "Charlotte," he said in surprise as she walked into the room.

He quickly found his placard and swapped it with the one next to hers. With that mission accomplished, he headed over to the bar to pretend like he hadn't noticed her entrance.

While trying to ignore Charlotte, Jack had gotten himself embroiled in a long conversation with Callie's aunt about the medicinal properties of grain alcohol. It took him fifteen minutes to extricate himself and head over to Charlotte. Either she was ignoring him too or she hadn't noticed him yet. She was talking with one of Logan's cousins on the other side of the room.

Jack turned and watched Charlotte for a moment. She looked even more beautiful than he had remembered. Her hair seemed lighter, almost strawberry blond in the late afternoon light, and the little freckles on her nose and cheeks almost made her look tan. By the time he reached her, Charlotte had noticed the seating arrangements.

"Looks like we're sitting together," Charlotte said, rolling her eyes and smirking as she held the placards up. "I wonder whose idea that was."

"I'm sure it was Callie and Logan's call," Jack said, "but it is their night, so I guess we should humor them."

"Yeah," Charlotte said, "but the funny thing is, I helped Callie make the seating chart, and you were supposed to be all the way over there." Charlotte pointed out at the harbor. "I had reserved a special buoy with your name on it."

"Why would you do a thing like that?" Jack said. "I guess it was fate."

Charlotte smiled. "Seems like fate had a helping hand," she said.

"No need to dwell on the past," Jack said. "I guess we'll just have to make it work."

"Right," Charlotte said. "Spoken like a true politician."

"I'll try to hide how much that hurt," Jack said. "Just smile and nod, and everything will turn out just fine."

"For better or for worse," Charlotte said.

"For richer or for—" Jack stopped mid-sentence as the bride and groom made their entrance into the room. "You know the rest," he said.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you like me," Charlotte said.

"Now, I wouldn't want you to think that," Jack said. "Word might get around, and my reputation would be ruined."

Charlotte grinned and headed off to greet the bride and groom. Jack hung back and watched the way Charlotte talked and laughed with her friend. He wanted to follow her over there and keep the conversation going. He wanted her to grin at him again. Maybe there was more to this than he had thought.

An hour later, after the cocktail hour and the small talk with Logan's friends and family, Jack took his seat next to Charlotte. She was staring at the enormous lobster on her plate and holding the tiny lobster fork in her hand as she tried to figure out what to do next. "Are you ready for your speech tomorrow night?" he asked.

"This must seem dumb to you, but I'm nervous," Charlotte said. "It's just a lot of people." She looked around the room. There were probably forty people at the rehearsal dinner. There would be hundreds at the wedding.

"Why would that seem dumb? I used to get nervous all the time before big talks, but there's a simple trick to getting over that fear," Jack said. He cut into his steak and took a bite while Charlotte stared at her lobster.

"Oh yeah?" Charlotte asked. "Let me guess, I'm supposed to picture everyone naked."

Jack's eyes darted up and down Charlotte. "Not the worst idea."

"Hey, I didn't say to picture me naked. Besides, that never helps."

"That's a shame," Jack said, "but I was thinking of something else. You just need some practice. Remember to work the crowd one person at a time. Pick someone and make eye contact. That's the key. Connect with them." Jack reached over and flipped the lobster over, twisting the tail and separating it from the rest. "Also, it's ok to use your hands."

"When eating lobster or when talking?"

Jack laughed. "Both I guess."

"I'll see what I can do," Charlotte said. "I've never had a whole lobster before. My parents weren't big seafood people." She laughed as she followed Jack's advice and started to take apart the lobster piece by piece. She took a bite and closed her eyes. "This is incredible. Why aren't you eating this too?"

"My parents were big seafood people. A steak makes for a good change of pace now and then." He liked helping Charlotte broaden her horizons a bit, even if it was only by pulling apart her meal. "Are you really that nervous about speaking?"

"Terrified." Charlotte took another bite of lobster and closed her eyes in bliss.

"You know, when I was a kid, I was afraid of the water. My mother was fine with me staying on solid ground, but my father, well, he had a different idea of what to do. We lived by the ocean, but one of my uncles had a pool. One day, when everyone was in the pool and I was standing off by the side, he picked me up and tossed me in the shallow end, and I swam back to the edge."

"That's terrible."

"It wasn't so bad. My mother nearly knocked his head off, but I was fine."

"Why are you telling me this?" Charlotte asked.

"Sometimes, the only way to get over your fear is to jump right in, but maybe you'd feel better swimming in the shallow end. I didn't always see eye to eye with my dad, but I think he had that one right."

Jack cleared his throat and clinked his fork against the champagne flute to get the room's attention. He pushed his chair out and stood up as the room grew quiet. He smiled across the sea of faces as the last bits of conversation died down and he had everyone's full attention.

"It's traditional for the best man and maid of honor to give speeches on the night of the wedding, but I wanted to share a few quick words with you tonight. Logan Harris has been a good friend of mine for my entire adult life. For those of you who don't know, we were roommates in college, and friends ever since, and in all the time I've known him, Logan has never given a damn what another single person has thought. He lives life according to his own rules. I always admired his freedom and his courage. Now, I admire him for finding and embracing love.

"Tomorrow, I'll give the sappy version of this speech, but tonight, I wanted to congratulate Callie on doing the impossible. You've gotten Logan to grow up, and you've helped him become the man we all knew he could be. I think of all the trouble we got in together…" Jack trailed off and looked across the room. "Maybe it would be better if I left that speech for after the two of you get married."

The crowd laughed.

"Logan, you've been a great friend over the years, and I know you'll be a wonderful husband. Callie, you picked a good man. He's loyal and determined, and, don't tell anyone I said this, but he's not so hard on the eyes. Logan and Callie, I'm proud to call myself your friend, and I look forward to witnessing your happiness in the years and decades to come."

As Jack finished his speech, he turned and winked at Charlotte.

"And now for a few words from the maid of honor. Ladies and gentlemen, Charlotte Crowley."

Jack walked over to Charlotte and handed her the microphone. She placed her hand over the microphone and glared at him. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Teaching you how to swim," he said. "Don't worry, you'll be fine."

Jack sat down next to Charlotte and rested his cheek against his palm as he turned to watch. The room grew quiet as everyone waited for her to stand. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment before pushing herself up.

"Hi, I'm Charlotte," she blurted out. She turned her attention to Callie. "I've been Callie's friend and roommate for the past five years. I didn't prepare anything for tonight, so I'll try to keep this short."

Jack sat back and watched her. Her hand trembled slightly as she held the microphone, and he could hear the hesitation in her voice. He'd been confident that helping Charlotte get her nerves out of her system before the wedding was the right move, but as he waited for her to continue, he wondered if he hadn't made a big mistake in thrusting her into the spotlight. Come on, Charlotte, he thought, I know you can do this.

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