Back in her husband's bed(4)

By: Andrea Laurence

 Nate shrugged. “We’ll just tell the truth. We got married three years ago. It didn’t work out. We separated. You came back for the tournament and we reconciled.”

 “That’s not the truth.”

 “No, but the best lies have a good bit of truth in them. The paper trail will back up our story. And we won’t give them any reason to doubt it.” He smiled a wide, confident smile that started to melt her defenses away before she could think through his statement.

 No reason to doubt they were married? “ don’t honestly expect us to...?” The air in the room suddenly seemed cooler, her skin contracting with goose bumps. Annie crossed her arms protectively over her chest and ran her hands over the bumpy flesh of her bare upper arms.

 “No—” he laughed “—of course not. It will just be for show. You’ll need to stay here in the suite with me. We’ll eat together in public, be affectionate. You might have to suffer through a few of my kisses so any time we spend alone will be chalked up to romantic interludes. No one will suspect what we’re really doing together.”

 Annie felt the rush of blood rise to her cheeks and chase away the chill. When was the last time she’d blushed? Probably her first kiss in sixth grade. She learned to master her emotions not long after that. It made her an excellent poker player. It also made her a really crappy girlfriend. Or wife, as the case was here. Somehow Nate was the only one able to put a dent in her armor.

 Suffering wasn’t exactly the response she had to his kisses. They always made her head swim. Made her thoughts turn to mush and her body into a bundle of raw nerves. His kisses had been enough to convince her that getting married after only a few days together was a good idea. If Annie was going to kiss him, she’d have to be very careful. The phrase one thing leads to another had never been truer than with Nate.

 This was a bad idea all around. Spying on her fellow players? Acting the happy couple with Nate? That was like playing with fire. No. This was a ridiculous suggestion. She wouldn’t be a party to Nate’s games. “What if I say no?”

 Annie watched her estranged husband take a large sip of his scotch and cross his arms over his chest. His expensive gray suit coat strained against his broad shoulders as he leaned casually against his desk. He didn’t seem at all affected by their conversation or the thought of kissing her. Apparently Annie was the only one still afflicted with that weakness. He was only interested in using her to make his precious hotel even more successful.

 Despite everything, she remembered why she’d fallen for Nate. He was all that she was supposed to want in a man: tall, handsome, strong, intelligent, caring and exceedingly wealthy. What she didn’t know was how to breathe when someone held her so tightly. She wasn’t used to someone else having a say in what she could or couldn’t do. Nate’s expectations of his wife had been more than she could handle.

 The women in her family weren’t known for keeping men around. Her marriage, as short-lived as it might’ve been, was the first in several generations. Magdala Baracas had taught her daughters early on that men could be amusing, but in the end, they were more trouble than they were worth. And looking at her “husband” now just reinforced her mother’s wisdom. Nate was infuriating. She’d filed for divorce and he’d contested, refusing to finalize the agreement just to punish her. Now he dangled her freedom as a carrot, but the price was too high.

 Nate pinned her with his dark gaze. “No cooperation, no divorce. Simple as that.”

 Uncomfortable, she shifted her glance away, tracing the angles of his smooth jaw to the dark blond curls that hung just at the edge of his shirt collar. His hair was longer than she remembered. She liked it better this way. Not that it mattered anymore what she thought. Despite what the law said, Nate wasn’t hers and hadn’t been for a very long time.

 Annie sighed in frustration but refused to just bite at whatever he dangled in front of her. “Come on, Nathan, be honest. This isn’t about poker cheats. This is about bending me to your will and punishing me for leaving you. You couldn’t possibly want to be married to me after everything that’s happened.”

 Annie couldn’t tell if her rambling was helping or hurting her cause, but she couldn’t stop the words from gushing out of her after three years of silence. “I regret that we confused lust and love and got into this mess. But I want to close this chapter of my life and move on. I don’t want to play these games anymore. Please.”

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