The Billionaire's Temporary Bride

By: Avery James

Prologue

Congressman Jack Coburn watched as the blonde in a cocktail dress and high heels ran across his lawn. While the rest of his guests were dressed down and relaxing, she looked like she was headed to the social event of the year.

Some things never change, he thought.

Of course, his idea of dressing down was wearing a lightweight suit and forgoing his usual power tie. He laughed at himself and turned his attention to the family and friends assembled outside his family's Cape Cod mansion.

"If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, my six o'clock has just arrived."

He shook a few hands, slapped a few backs and headed down to meet her.

"Callie," Jack said, "when I said I wanted to run something by you, I didn't mean you had to beat a path to the Cape."

Callie Haven was the fiancée of Jack's best friend Logan and one of the top political fixers in the country. Her energy and enthusiasm belied her great skill at defusing and preventing political crises of all kinds. While running across the lawn, she had been talking loudly into her cell phone and making emphatic gestures with her hands. She ended the call before reaching Jack and giving him a big hug. "Logan and I had been planning on crashing your party anyway. He's inside saying hi to your mother now."

"I should have known," Jack said. "It wouldn't be a Coburn family event without your fiancé appearing out of the blue."

"You're his best man," Callie said. "I'm just the one marrying him. If you asked me here for my input on the bachelor party, I've already said no to Vegas, Monte Carlo and anything involving women, cards or booze."

"No, I wanted to talk to you about business," Jack said. "As you probably know, there's an open Senate seat in Massachusetts this year, and I'm planning on making a run for it."

"Jack, there have been rumors about you running for Senate since the day you were elected to the House of Representatives."

"I was wondering if Haven Communications would be able to help with the campaign," Jack said. "You're a fixer, and I have a bit of a problem."

"Well, we specialize in political scandals," Callie said. "So unless you've had an affair, been blackmailed or committed a few felonies, I don't know if we'll be of much help. So what's the problem?"

"I have an image issue," Jack said.

"You're one of the nation's most eligible bachelors," Callie said. "You're the favorite son of one of America's great political dynasties, and you think you have an image problem?"

"I've gotten word that one of my opponents will be going negative as soon possible, painting me as a playboy and a dilettante. I mean, if you look at the past few years, it makes sense. I've had a string of girlfriends and broken it off any time things got serious."

"So you need a wife," Callie said.

Jack laughed. "Yeah, right. That would be one way to solve the problem."

"I'm serious," Callie said, "we've done this before. I might have a few candidates. I'll put a list together."

"I'm not marrying someone for political purposes," Jack said.

"Why not?"

"To start, I don't believe in marriage. It never ends well."

"You don't believe in marriage for love," Callie said. "I won't hold that against you when you're standing next to my groom at the wedding."

"I don't believe in marriage for me," Jack said. "You and Logan are a perfect match. It's different."

"So who would your perfect match be?"

"Really?" Jack asked.

"Yes," Callie said. "If you were to find a wife for the next two years, who would she be?"

"Someone beautiful and intelligent," Jack said. "Not runway beautiful. I'd need someone wholesome, someone believable."

"Beautiful is easy. Intelligent is harder, but we can find it. I can have a whole list of candidates for you by tomorrow morning."

"She'd also have to be funny and kind."

"Difficult but possible."

"One other thing: I'd want someone who has no interest in marrying me."

"Just to make things harder for me?" Callie asked.

"Hey, this was your idea."

"I'm just saying that most women would give their right arm to get stuck in an elevator with you. Who wouldn't want to marry you?"

"The right person," Jack said. "It wouldn't be fair to ask someone for a long term commitment when I couldn't give one if I wanted."

"I've got to say, Jack, it will be hard to pitch women on the idea of marrying you if one of your stipulations is that they can't be interested. Are you afraid of letting a woman get close to you?"

Jack tried not to let the smile on his face drop, but Callie was savvy. It was her job to pick up on subtle clues when a powerful man was hiding something from her.

"What are you hiding?" she asked.

"Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. That is the one question I won't answer, Callie. Not even to you. If we are going to come to an agreement, one of the terms has to be that you will not go asking about my private life, and neither will my wife."

"You're just trying to make this impossible aren't you?" Callie said. As she looked at him in disbelief, her phone rang. She looked down at the screen and back up at him.

"Take the call," Jack said. "This was probably a bad idea anyway."

"It's just my roommate—" Callie stared down at the phone for a moment and grinned. "Actually, you're right. I should take this. I might have someone for you after all." Callie practically skipped across the lawn as she answered the call.

As Jack tried to figure out what had just happened, his phone started to buzz in his breast pocket. He took a quick look around. No one was within earshot, but he couldn't be too careful. He headed to the trail that led from the back lawn down to the beach and walked out of sight.

He pulled the small flip phone out and looked at it for a moment. How many years had he carried it for? Five? Always securely in his breast pocket, always safely away from his primary phone. How many more years would he carry it for? When would he finally slip up and let someone notice?

Not today, he thought. He took another look around and answered the phone.

"Maria," he said, "is everything alright?"

"Yes," the woman said on the other end of the line. "I just wanted to let you know that someone came by the house today asking about little Jack."

"Did you say anything?" Jack asked.

"Of course not," Maria replied.

"Good," Jack replied. "How are the two of you doing? I've been meaning to come down and visit. I got him that game he wanted for his birthday."

"He was asking for you this morning," Maria said. "It's getting hard to explain things to him."

"Let me give it a try next time I'm in town. Oh, by the way, it's probably nothing, but there's a possibility you might read a few articles about me getting engaged soon. Before you say anything, I want you to know that this will do nothing to change our arrangement." He flipped the phone shut when he saw a blur of motion in his peripheral vision. When he turned, no one was there.

Maybe it had been a bird or a trick of the light. He looked toward the yard as the shadow of his family's estate stretched beyond him to the sea.





Chapter 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bridesmaid must do everything within her power to help her bride. For the maid of honor, this is doubly true. She must conjure miracles of planning, preparation and improvisation in order to keep the intricate machinery of a wedding party on track. Of course, there's more to it than that. The maid of honor must smile and nod and fade into the background, ensuring the success of the whole endeavor without taking any credit. At the latter half of this list, Charlotte Crowley excelled. If not for her conspicuously red hair, she would have been invisible while standing next to Callie Haven, the perfect, blond-haired, smiling bride.

Above all, the maid of honor must go along with the bride's wishes. Even if that means leaving a private plane waiting while the bachelorette party heads back into Georgetown on a last minute change of plans so that the bride could crash the groom's bachelor party. The rest of it was irrelevant. The three hundred forty-seven dollar bridesmaid dress, the twelve hundred dollars for her portion of Callie's bridal shower, the over twenty-eight hundred dollars she had poured into the perfect bachelorette weekend — Charlotte had pushed it all out of her mind. She had taken out a credit card solely for wedding expenses, and she had stopped checking the balance months ago. For someone who usually knew how much money she had down to the penny, this act of cognitive dissonance had been the only thing keeping her from breaking down into tears at her financial situation. If she couldn't see her growing mountain of debt, it didn't exist, and it would continue not existing until the bride and groom had left for their honeymoon. At that point, Charlotte could sit down and figure out what to do next.

For now, she'd have to settle for getting the drink order. She grabbed the wedding card out of her purse and turned her attention to Callie. "What can I get? The first round is on me."

Callie smiled and said, "Vi's already at the bar taking care of it, I've got this one." Callie's aunt Vi was exactly the sort of woman who would make a bee line to the bar. She was probably flirting with the bartender, too.

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