The Billionaire's Convenient BrideBy: CJ Howard
She looked at him suspiciously, but she sat down near him all the same and looked at him.
“You seem to know a lot about my reputation. How is that?” he asked, not looking forward to the answer.
“People talk. You’re a rich guy around town. Everyone knows what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s in the papers, but most of the time it’s just because you are one of the things that people talk about around here. The talk isn’t good. It’s never good when it’s about you. People don’t like the way you act and the way you live, and part of it isn’t their business, but the other part is that you have a public image, and it’s pretty badly tarnished,” she said with thoughtful honesty, looking at him closely. He really was as gorgeous as everyone had said, and the photos she had seen of him did him no justice at all, but she saw the rest of him; the bad, right along with his beautiful exterior, and it was like looking at two sides of a coin at the same time.
He rubbed his fingers over his forehead. “I didn’t know it was that bad,” he said in a quiet tone.
“It is that bad, and nothing is going to change that until you change your image,” she told him. “No one is going to want to do anything with you. You would get a lot further with the people of this city if you had a better reputation. You need to think about changing that before you try to start changing neighborhoods around here, because all you’re going to do is spin your wheels in the mud if you try to do it the way things are now.” She knew that the truth she was telling him was hurting him, but she knew he probably needed to hear it, and she felt like telling him might help drive him to change.
He furrowed his brow, looking at her more closely, “What’s your name?”
“Emmaline,” she said, holding her hand out to him.
He looked at her hand and took it in his slowly, shaking it and looking up at her, “You aren’t opposed to touching a man with dirty hands?” he asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Everyone gets their hands dirty, but not everyone is as well-known as you are. You aren’t the first man to sleep with a married woman. It’s just that your indiscretion was published for the whole world to see, so everyone feels like they can look down on you and forget their own sins. People wouldn’t be so hard on you if everyone had all their bad deeds made public.” She knew that sentiment was true, at the very least.
He listened quietly to her, his gaze steady on her face, “Emmaline. That’s a pretty name. Where did you get it?”
“I was named after my grandmother. She passed on, though, so now it’s just me and my grandfather, Henri.” She was proud of her grandparents. They had raised her and they were the best people she knew. She was honored to be named after her grandmother. Emmaline withdrew her hand from his and moved to stand up, but he stopped her.
“Wait! Please don’t go yet. You’ve really given me a lot to think about and I feel like you have a bit more insight that I ought to look into before you leave. Please,” he asked earnestly, and she pressed her lips together for a moment in consideration and then sat back down.
“Alright. What else do you want to talk about?” she asked, looking back at him.
“Well, you’ve told me how bad things are, and that I will have to change all of it before I can try to work with the people around here to change the neighborhood, but… how do I change my image? If it’s so bad, how do I dig myself out of that hole?” He lifted his whiskey and took a long drink.
She leaned back in her chair and looked at him. “You’re serious? You really want to know?” She wasn’t sure he did want to know what she had to say to him.
He closed his eyes and nodded. “I really want to know.”
Emmaline thought to herself that he had asked for it. She planted her hands on her knees and shook her head. “Your image is one of a wild playboy. If you want the people around here to trust you and look up to you, you need to develop a new image. You should try to be a family man. At least get a wife, even if you aren’t interested in having children. Have a steady relationship with a respectable, well brought up woman who truly cares about the people here and the community, someone who is honest and kind, thoughtful, helpful, generous, and has the best interests of the city at heart, and get serious with her and then marry her. Change your image enough that people see the two of you as a couple; a unit that works together instead of just you as a single playboy. Act as one solitary unit that wants to make a difference here and people will see you that way and they will want to work with you and make changes for the better. That’s the way you ought to do it. Nothing else is going to make them forget all of those pictures they’ve seen in the paper and online.” She watched him to see what he would think of that, and he looked like he was going to be sick.
Her words struck deeply at him. A wife. A serious relationship. He had bucked against just that ideal all of his life, and for no specific reason other than that he was adamantly against himself settling down with one woman. The idea was completely alien to him. He couldn’t conceive of it at all.
Peter shook his head. “There has to be another way. What else could I do?” he pleaded.
She shook her head back at him, her sympathy waning. “That’s it, there is no other way. People won’t stop looking at you like you’re a playboy unless you show them that you aren’t a playboy anymore, and the only way to do that is to change it for real. You’re going to have to grow up and get serious with some woman, a respectable woman, before anyone starts to take you seriously.” She could tell by the expression on his face that nothing she said was going to convince him of that, and she felt like anything else she might tell him would be wasted.
He was thoroughly repulsed by the idea and he lifted his whiskey to his lips with a scowl on his face. She just looked away from him and shrugged again. “Well, that’s the only way you’re going to change it.” She stood up and walked toward the door.
“Thank you, Emmaline. I appreciate the time you gave me and your insight. You gave me a lot to think about,” he said as she turned and waved at him before she disappeared.
When he got up the next day, the idea that Emmaline had discussed with him the night before was still on his mind. No longer rattling around, it fell like a seed onto good soil and it had begun to sprout tender little roots and grow.
Peter called his assistant to meet him in his office at home. Nelson arrived early and sat across from Peter at his desk.
“How did the meeting go last night, sir?” Nelson asked with interest.
“The message was well received, but the messenger was not. It seems that my mistakes have jaded the opinions of those around me, enough so that none of them are interested in associating with me and doing business with me, even at the cost of improving and refurbishing devastated areas of the city.” Peter had come to terms with it before he had even gotten home the night before.
Nelson frowned and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, that’s truly unfortunate, sir,” he replied with disappointment.
Peter looked at him and interlocked his fingers, resting his hands on his desk. “Nelson, are you aware that my reputation is basically shot in the entire state of Louisiana? Have you heard that?” he asked, hoping for the best possible answer.
Nelson looked down and pursed his lips and then looked back up at his boss, “Yes, Sir, I am aware of that, and I have heard it quite a few times.”
Peter scowled at him and looked away, “Well, then why haven’t you ever said anything to me about it before?”
“Well, sir, you never asked about it, so I thought you knew. I supposed that you were aware of it. Certainly you must be, when no one has anything good to say about you.” Nelson began to look confident about what he was saying to his employer, as though he was telling him something that was helpful without being hurtful. Or like he had been holding it in for quite some time.
Peter closed his eyes for a moment and soaked in the words he heard, and then he looked at Nelson and put his hands on the desk. “What methods would you say are my best options for improving my public image, Nelson?”
“I’d say good works, even the project that you are working on to improve and refurbish the areas that need help in the city. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if you stopped making your love life public.” Nelson blushed slightly at the mention of Peter’s love life.
Peter gazed at him, green eyes blazing, “What if no one will work with me to help me accomplish the good works you’re talking about?”
Nelson opened his mouth but then closed it again right away. He didn’t have a ready answer for that. “Well, sir, I guess you’ll just have to do as many on your own as you can until people decide that they want to start working with you again.”
“There was a young lady last night who had another idea. I thought I’d run it past you,” Peter said with a determined tone.
Nelson was all ears. “Oh, of course, sir. Please. What did she have to say?”
“It’s good that you’re sitting down,” Peter smirked sarcastically to himself. “She said she thinks I ought to have a serious monogamous relationship with a respectable woman and then marry her so that my image would be that of a devoted husband and family man. What do you think of that?”