One Week with the Best Man: Reclaimed by the Rancher

By: Andrea Laurence

One

 “Pardon me,” Natalie said, leaning in toward the man sitting across from her. “Could you run that by us again?”

 Gretchen was glad Natalie had said it, because she was pretty darn confused herself. The four owners and operators of From This Moment wedding chapel were seated at the conference room table across from a man wearing an expensive suit and an arrogant attitude she didn’t care for. He wasn’t from the South; that was for sure. He was also talking nonsense.

 Ross Bentley looked just as annoyed with the women’s confusion as they were with him. “You advertise From This Moment as a one-stop wedding venue, do you not?”

 “Yes,” Natalie said, “but usually that means we’ll handle the food, the DJ and the flowers. We’ve never been asked to provide one of the wedding guests a date. This is a wedding chapel, not an escort service.”

 “Let me explain,” Ross said with a greasy smile that Gretchen didn’t trust. “This is a very delicate arrangement, so this discussion will need to fall within the confidentiality agreement for the Murray Evans wedding.”

 Murray Evans was a country music superstar. On his last tour, he’d fallen for his opening act. They were having a multiday wedding event at their facility next weekend, the kind the press salivated over. Those weddings usually required a confidentiality clause so that any leaks about the event are not from the venue. Frankly, Gretchen was getting tired of these big, over-the-top weddings. The money was nice—money was always nice, since she didn’t have much—but carefully addressing thousands of invitations in perfect calligraphy wasn’t that fun. Nor was dealing with the high-and-mighty wedding guests who came to these kinds of shindigs.

 “Of course,” Natalie replied.

 “I represent Julian Cooper, the actor. He’s a longtime friend of Mr. Evans and will be attending the wedding as the best man. I’m not sure how closely you follow celebrity news, but Julian has just had a big public breakup with his costar of Bombs of Fury, Bridgette Martin. Bridgette has already been seen out and about with another high-profile actor. As his manager, I feel like it would look bad if Julian attended the wedding alone, but he doesn’t need the complication of a real date. We just need a woman to stand in and pretend to be with him throughout the wedding events. I assure you there’s nothing inappropriate involved.”

 Gretchen knew of Julian Cooper—it would be impossible not to—although she’d never seen any of his films. He was the king of dude films—lots of explosions, guns and scripts with holes big enough to drive a truck through them. That wasn’t her thing, but a lot of people loved his movies. It seemed a little ridiculous that he would need a fake date. His sweaty, hard abs were plastered all over every billboard and movie preview. While Gretchen might not appreciate his acting skills, she had a hard time discounting that body. If a man who looked like that couldn’t get a last-minute date, she was doomed.

 “What kind of woman are you wanting?” Bree, their photographer, asked cautiously. “I’m not sure I know many women who would look natural on the arm of a movie star.”

 “That’s understandable,” Ross said. “What I’d really prefer is an average woman. We don’t want her to look like an escort. I also think it would go over well with Julian’s female fan base for him to be seen with an everyday woman. It makes them feel like they have a shot.”

 Gretchen snorted, and Ross shot a cutting look at her across the table. “We’d be willing to handsomely compensate her for the trouble,” he continued. “We’re willing to pay ten thousand dollars for the woman’s time. Also, I can provide additional funds for salon visits and a clothing allowance.”

 “Ten thousand dollars?” Gretchen nearly choked. “Are you kidding?”

 “No,” Ross said. “I’m very serious. Can you provide what we’re asking for or not?”

 Natalie took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes. We’ll make arrangements and have someone in place to meet with Julian when he arrives in Nashville.”

 “Very good. He flies into Nashville tonight and he’s staying at the Hilton.” Ross reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a leather wallet. He extracted a handful of cash and pushed it across the table to Natalie. “This should cover the incidentals I discussed. The full payment will be provided after the wedding is over.”

 Without elaborating, he stood up and walked out of the conference room, leaving the four women in stunned silence.

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