The Billionaire's Convenient BrideBy: CJ Howard
Nelson couldn’t help himself, and his initial reaction was to snort, because he had tried to hold in his shock and laughter and he couldn’t keep it in. The snort erupted in a full loud laugh at the completely ridiculous notion of Peter being with only one woman and then marrying her. It was beyond the scope of his reality.
“Has she met you?” Nelson asked satirically. Then he realized that Peter was still being serious and he straightened his tie and his posture and looked back at his boss with a stoic expression. “I’m sorry, sir. My thoughts are that for anyone else, that might be a very good idea, but monogamous relationships and marriage aren’t exactly your… cup of tea, sir.”
Peter sighed. “I realize that, Nelson. Your mirth is inappropriate. I’m trying to accomplish a rejuvenation in the city and I need help, not sarcasm.” He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Do you think there’s any other way for me to fix my image in a short period of time?”
Nelson considered it thoughtfully and shook his head, “No, sir. I think she was right on about what you said, a serious relationship and marriage is about the best way to fix it. It would show everyone that you’ve settled down and taken some responsibility for your life and that would attract members of the community who tend to live more ethical and moral lives. She’s right on about it, come to think of it.”
Peter bit his lip. “How do you suppose I tackle that monster?” he asked, hoping for a miracle.
Nelson stood up and walked around the room, hands in his pants pockets, thinking deeply on it for a few minutes. After pacing back and forth for a short while, he came back to his chair and sat at the edge of it, looking at Peter with some hope.
“I have an idea. It’s an immoral idea, and unethical, but it might work,” he said with a smile.
“Isn’t that kind of defeating the purpose?” Peter frowned.
“No… not really. Actually, I think it would be your saving grace,” he answered thoughtfully. “Here’s the plan. We find a woman for you who is morally upstanding, honest, considerate, smart, beautiful, hardworking; someone that the public can fall in love with, and we have you date her for a little while, get you both right in the middle of the public eye, and then you marry her, but it’s under contract. Let’s say, just for discussions, a three year contract, and during that time you do all the public works you want to do, accomplish what you want to achieve, and then the contract ends and the two of you get an amicable divorce. You both part as close friends. You pay her a set sum of money, something considerable, and she keeps the secret. You rent a wife. She makes money, you get your projects completed and you improve your public image. If you feel like you need to see other women, it won’t hurt your marriage because she is basically an employee of yours, because you rented her, and there is no emotional tie there. If you do see other women, you go out of state to do it. No one finds out, and voila, you have the best of both worlds.” Nelson let out a breath and beamed, quite proud of himself for coming up with such a brilliant plan.
Peter stared at him. “You must be kidding, Nelson. Rent a wife?” He stood up out of his chair and leaned over the desk, glaring at his assistant. “Rent a wife? For three years? Who’s going to do that? Who is going to put up with me as my rental wife for three whole years?” He paced around the desk and flung his hands up in the air. “Where are we going to find a woman who won’t mind being around me that long, who knows how I am and is interested in helping to make me look like a better man, who is willing to take money for a crazy idea like this, who is upstanding and respectable, who is honest and trustworthy… who is beautiful and who the city could fall… in… love… with.” He stopped and his eyes grew wide. “I know who. I know who!” He dashed out the door and drove himself downtown.
Emmaline was cleaning off a table when he walked in the door of the restaurant and his eyes looked around and stopped when they reached her. She took a deep breath and stood up, her cleaning rag in her hand and a pretty good idea in her head that whatever he was coming in to her restaurant for, it couldn’t be good.
He stopped in front of her. “I need to talk with you,” he said simply.
She lowered her brow. She didn’t like his tone. “I’m working.”
Peter looked around at the restaurant; it was dead. “It’s slow. This will only take a little while. Can you take a break? We’ll go somewhere for coffee. Low key, my treat.”
Emmaline scowled at him. “What do you think you’re playing at? I’m not the kind of girl that goes around-”
He cut her off, “I know! I know you’re not like that. That’s why I want to talk with you. Come on, Emmaline, this is all your idea anyway, you started it. I’ve come up with a plan to fix my reputation and I need your help. Please. Just give me fifteen minutes, okay?” He pleaded with her and she glared at him. “Please?” he asked again and she rolled her eyes and handed him the cleaning rag.
“Here. Wash this table. I’ll go talk to my manager.” She grabbed his hand and dropped the rag into it and he looked down at it and stared at it, then looked back up at her with a clueless expression on his face as she walked away.
Emmaline talked very quietly to another woman at the counter, pointing subtly at Peter, and then she rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulder. He turned and began wiping the cloth over the table, peeking over his shoulder at her. It was a moment before he realized he had never cleaned a table in his life. He stared down at the rag and the table and blinked in wonder.
She came back to him and put her hands on her hips. “Alright, we can go for a quick coffee.” Then she leaned over and yanked the cleaning rag from his hand and frowned at the table. “What do you think you’re doing? That’s no way to wipe a table down! You’re fired. Let’s go.” She tossed the rag in a bucket and waved at the lady behind the counter who watched them leave with raised eyebrows and no small amount of opinionated judgment on her face.
They walked to a café a few blocks away and sat together at a table in the corner. Emmaline had her back to the room in hopes that no one would recognize her with the scourge of the city. He noticed her behavior and looked at her questioningly.
“Let me get this right, you don’t want to be seen with me?” he asked in amazement.
She tilted her head slightly at him and raised her eyebrows. “Did you really just ask me that? Would you want to be seen with you? People like me around here. I have a good reputation, and I’d like to keep it thank you very much.”
He slouched a bit and felt his courage begin to waver. “Well, that’s not going to help me all that much if you don’t want to be seen with me.”
She lowered one eyebrow at him in consternation. “What are you talking about?” she asked carefully.
Peter reached both his hands across the table and touched her hand, but she jerked her hand away from him and gave him a warning glare. He sighed and put his hands in his lap. “Sorry! I just… I just need to talk with you about this, uh… idea that came up between my assistant and me. It stemmed from something you said, and so I thought I’d… come talk to you about it.”
“Well? What is it?” she asked, with suspicion.
Peter raked his fingers through his golden hair and took a deep breath. “It’s ah… it’s kind of complicated. It’s still sort of a raw idea, still in the making, but I think that it will… uh… it will work out pretty well.” He looked back at her nervously. “Maybe.”
She leaned toward him and said in a sharp undertone, “You have fifteen more minutes. You better use it wisely and get to the point already.”
He leaned forward and lowered his voice even further. “Well, you said I should find a girl and be monogamous with her, and then get married. I um… I found the girl. It’s you,” he said and before he could take a breath and continue, she jumped straight up from her chair and snapped at him.
“What? Have you lost your damn mind?!”
He reached for her arms to pull her back down to her seat, but she yanked herself away from him before he could reach her. “Wait! Wait! It’s not what you think! It’s a business arrangement! It’s not a real marriage!”
She stared at him and her mouth fell open slightly. “You have lost your mind. It just went an wandered off, probably up some girl’s skirt.”
He looked around at the other patrons in the café who were beginning to give them curious looks. He smiled at them as if it was nothing, and then he motioned toward her chair. “Would you please sit down? You’re causing a scene. Listen, it’s not at all what you think. Just hear me out. Please!” He resorted to pleading with her again and she sighed and sat back down in the chair.
“Fine. Finish your piece,” she said with a rebellious glare on her face.
Peter leaned toward her and lowered his voice substantially. “I was listening last night when you told me that I need to get my public image straightened out. I was listening to you when you told me that I need to have a good woman in my life. A respectable, well brought up woman who truly cares about the people and the community, someone honest and kind, thoughtful, helpful, generous, and someone who has the best interests of the city at heart. That’s pretty much exactly what you told me last night. I got to thinking about it, and I talked to my assistant, and he agreed with you and then he came up with this idea. I need a wife, but obviously I don’t have a lot of time and I don’t really want to get involved with anyone on a serious level. I like my freedom. I like not having a monogamous relationship and I don’t want to commit myself to anyone for the rest of my life, so here’s the best possible solution to this tangle of challenges. I rent you as my wife for three years and-”