The Billionaire's Temporary Bride

By: Avery James

"How about a first date?" Jack asked. "We can get dinner and figure out whether or not we can lay the groundwork for a relationship."

As Charlotte thought it over, Amy placed her Hermès purse on the table and started to root through it. "How's this for a deal? Callie and I won't stick our noses into your relationship."

"What's the catch?" Jack asked.

"I can't do anything to help you two figure out your relationship, but I sure as hell can make sure you look good while you do it." Amy pulled a black credit card out from the purse's depths and handed it to Callie. "Consider this my way of saying I'm sorry for pushing things."

"I'm not sure I understand," Charlotte replied.

Callie laughed. "It means we're going shopping."

Chapter 6

Charlotte looked at herself in the mirror, turning in circles as Callie stood back and nodded her approval. Charlotte had always considered herself fashionable, but when she looked at herself in the mirror, she felt like she was looking at a stranger. Her usual idea of fashion was wearing a scarf. This little black dress was more… aggressive than something she could have ever chosen on her own, let alone afford.

Usually she'd wear whatever she thought was nice but unassuming. She owned a lot of blouses, and a pencil skirt was about as racy as she got. This dress, on the other hand, hugged and accentuated all the curves of her body. As Charlotte looked at herself, she couldn't believe what she saw. She looked good. She looked hot. Normally, she would have second-guessed every choice, but tonight, she hadn't had the chance.

"Damn," Callie said. "You've been hiding that body the entire time we've been living together?"

Charlotte laughed. "Oh, shut up," she said. She took another look at herself. She had to admit that the dress fit well. Callie hadn't allowed her to look at the price. She had just handed Amy's card over and gone off to look at shoes.

"We should have done this at my apartment, you know, one last time before the lease is up," Charlotte said.

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that," Callie said. "Amy and I picked up the lease. Since I'm technically still on it, I was able to re-up."

Charlotte stopped looking at herself in the mirror and turned toward Callie. "You shouldn't have done that. You really shouldn't have done that."

"It's no big deal," Callie said. "You and Jack will move in together, and I already have someone willing to sublet."

"That should have been my decision." Charlotte placed her hands on her hips.

"I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought you'd be happy."

"I specifically told you that I would take care of it."

"You said you didn't want me to worry about it, and now I'm not worried about it." A loud buzz from the hallway intercom cut their conversation short. Callie clapped her hands together. "He's here! He's not going to believe how good you look."

"We're not done," Charlotte said as Callie headed for the stairs.

"Yell at me after your date," Callie called back.

Charlotte stepped into the ridiculously high heels Callie had insisted on buying for her as well. Charlotte hadn't asked how much they cost. She just knew that they were expensive. Her legs looked longer. Her thighs looked thinner, and she felt slightly off-balance, like she was standing on stilts. If the whole marriage plan didn't work out, she could at least sell off the outfit and wipe out a chunk of her debt.

Why Callie was so excited, Charlotte didn't know. With her first step in the heels, the novelty of looking at herself in a designer dress wore off. Instead of excitement, she felt dread. Everything was moving too quickly, and she was just going along with it. She needed to take control of the situation. She needed to take control of her life. Then again, she hadn't used that control back when she had it. She had let herself fall into this situation. She had allowed Amy and Callie to talk her into trading her own very personal troubles for Jack's very public ones. And now, she was staring at a stranger in the mirror, one in a designer dress.

Charlotte closed her eyes and focused on her breath for a moment. One thing at a time, she thought. This was her last chance to walk away from it all unscathed, the last time to opt out and avoid all the trouble of cameras and gossip and the terrible weight of living a lie.

You can do this, she assured herself. Dinner and a dress are one thing, buying into the rest of it is another. Remember, you're still you. You like books, and guys who watch foreign films and laugh at your jokes about Evelyn Waugh. Jack is not that guy, and he doesn't have to be. You're just doing a favor for a friend. Nothing has to change. You're just giving yourself enough time to figure out the next step.

She opened her eyes and looked at herself again.

See, you're still you. Maybe you just need to think of this as a job that's going to help you pay off all your debt. You'll be set for life, and all you have to do is live the job for a while. People do it all the time — lawyers who work a hundred hours a week for years, doctors who go through grueling residencies — and you don't even have to do that. You just have to smile and sign a marriage contract and go with the flow until you're offered a generous severance package.

Charlotte's literal next step was still a bit more wobbly than she would have liked. The stiletto heels weren't exactly as stable as the flats she normally wore. As she headed down the hall, she felt like she was walking down a runway. When she made it to the top of the stairs, she decided to slip the shoes off and make her way down barefoot.

Jack was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Sure enough, he was wearing a blue suit and looked as good as ever. He had just a hint of stubble on his chin. As he looked up at her, there was something welcoming about his expression, something serene.

Why do people always describe eyes as piercingly blue? Charlotte wondered. There was nothing hard, nothing penetrating about Jack's gaze. It was warm and comforting. It drew her to him. That little bit of eye contact made her feel like she knew him, like she could trust him, like he was taking her into his world. It was easy to see how he managed to charm voters into electing him at such a young age. It seemed strange to her that Jack was both the cause of so much of her inner turmoil and also the only person who made her feel at ease.

Charlotte slipped the shoes back on and took a quick look at Jack and the crisp lines of his navy blue suit. While Charlotte felt like she was wearing a costume, Jack looked like he was made to wear a suit, like when he got undressed at night, he simply got into another suit and went to bed. She had always thought that guys were the ones who had trouble dressing up for dates. Suit and tie was probably more comfortable than casualwear for Jack.

"Wow," Jack said as Charlotte made her way across the foyer, "you look unbelievable."

"Why does everyone have such a hard time believing I can look like this?" Charlotte asked.

"You'd better get more comfortable hearing compliments," Jack said, "because you're going to get many. I don't want to rock the boat though, so I'll just try my best to make fun of you." He held out his arm. "Come on, Red, there's a new molecular gastronomy restaurant called Curio a few blocks away. I thought we could walk."

"I had enough trouble walking down the hallway in these heels," Charlotte said.

"I'll catch you if you fall," Jack said. He grinned. "And maybe even if you don't."

As they walked down the quiet, tree-lined streets toward the main road, Charlotte stared down at the sidewalk and focused on not tripping on the uneven bricks. Old-fashioned street-lamps cast warm yellow pools of light over the sidewalks and the brownstones of the narrow street. Tree roots pushed up through the pavers, and tiny front-yard gardens spilled out through wrought iron fences. Charlotte steadied herself against Jack and he wrapped his arm around her. Charlotte barely realized it had happened. It just felt so natural. She couldn't help but wonder why none of her real dates had ever been anywhere near as romantic as the route to the restaurant on Jack's arm.

"I really meant what I said back there. You look incredible. If you had been wearing this dress at the wedding, I don't think anyone would have paid any attention to the bride. Who knew you were holding out on me?" Jack asked.

"Holding out on you? Is that how it is?" Charlotte said.

Jack shook his head. "You know, in my mind, that sounded like a compliment. Let me try that again. You look wonderful. Somehow, you look even better than you did at the wedding."

Charlotte smiled. "You know, you look pretty good yourself. I just hope your taste in food is as good as your taste in suits."

"I have over a dozen identical versions of this suit, save for the different shades of blue. I'm pretty sure if I die, they'll bury me in it. I didn't even choose it. A consultant did. The poll numbers showed that people found me more trustworthy in blue. Why that would be the case, I have no idea."

"So, do you make every decision in your life based off of polls?"

"Just the ones I'm too cowardly to make on my own," Jack joked. "Some choices are better left to other people. I don't care what brand or cut of suit I wear. It makes no difference in the lives of my constituents. Sure, it might get some press in some magazine or fashion blog somewhere. It might catch someone's eye, but it doesn't really matter."

Top Books