Paper Marriage Proposition

By: Red Garnier

“Do You Want Your Child Back?”




“Of course I do!”

“Smile, then—and get out there with me. Let the reporters have a good look at my future wife. Hold your head high. Hold my hand.”

Her palm felt cool when she slipped it inside his, and he gave it a clench as he guided her around the corner. She walked easily beside him, but a hint of alarm still lingered in her voice. “Landon, I feel like all these people can see right through me. That they know this is a farce and that I have no clue who you are.”

“Do me a favor, Beth?”

“What?”

“Act like you love me.”






One




Desperate.

Desperate was the only word to describe her at this point, the only word to justify what she was doing.

Her heart rattled in her chest, and her clammy hands shook so hard she could barely control them.

She was stepping into a man’s hotel room—uninvited.

She had lied to the housekeeper to gain access, and this only after days of having groveled to this elusive stranger’s secretary and attempting to bribe his chauffeur. And now, as she embarked on her first felony, Bethany Lewis expected to crack under the pressure.

Legs trembling, she shut the door behind her, pulled out a little black book and clutched it to her chest as she eased deeper into the presidential suite—uninvited.

The space was lit by soft lamplight, scented with the sweet smell of oranges. Her stomach rumbled, still starved for today’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A small lacquered desk sat by the window. Behind it, the satin, peach-colored drapes were gathered aside to reveal a wide balcony overlooking the city. A silver tray with chocolate-dipped strawberries, an assortment of cheeses and polished fresh fruit was laid out on a glass coffee table. Next to a single unopened envelope that read Mr. Landon Gage.

The name was synonymous with old money, sophistication, power. For years it had been whispered to Bethany in hate. Landon Gage will pay for this. The Gages will rot in hell!

But the Gages were swimming in money, and if this was hell, then Beth would take it any day against the purgatory she’d had to live through.

She navigated around the Queen Anne settee, thinking of her six-year-old’s cherubic blond face as she’d last seen it, wary-eyed and fearful as she left for trial. Mommy, you won’t leave me? Promise?

No, darling, Mommy will never leave you….

Hollowness spread in her breast at the memory. She would brave a fiery dragon. She would lie and cheat and steal if only to make those words real to her little boy.

“Mr. Gage?”

She peered beyond the slightly parted double doors that led into the bedroom. Downstairs, the children’s cancer charity function was in full swing. Bethany had planned to blend in as a waitress and make her move, but the tycoon had not made an appearance yet, although it was worldwide knowledge that he was in the building. Among the waiting crowd, his name had been whispered in anticipation, and suddenly Beth couldn’t stand the suspense.

On the large king bed, a glossy-leather briefcase lay open, surrounded by piles and piles of papers. A laptop hummed nearby.

“You’ve been following me.”

Startled by the rich, deeply masculine voice, her eyes jerked to where a man exited the walk-in closet. He swiftly closed the buttons of his crisp white shirt and fixed her with a sharp, ice-cold gaze. Bethany backed into a wall. His presence was so staggering, her breath wheezed out of her.

He was taller than she’d anticipated, broad, dark and intimidating as a night demon. His body was fit and toned under the dress shirt and tailored black slacks, and the damp hair that was slicked behind his wide forehead revealed a face that was both utterly virile and sophisticated. His eyes—an old, tarnished silver color—were weary and remote, somehow empty-looking.

“I’m sorry,” she said when she realized she was gaping.

He took in her physique. His gaze lingered on her hands, the nails shredded down to stubs. Beth resisted the urge to squirm and fought valiantly to stand there, dignified.

Carefully, he absorbed the knit St. John jacket and skirt she wore, loose around her waist and shoulders after she’d lost so much weight. It was one of the few quality suits she’d been able to hang on to after the divorce and one she’d chosen precisely for this occasion. But his gaze narrowed when he caught the shadows under her eyes.

Her tummy clenched. She could tell he wasn’t as impressed with her as she with him.

He seized a shiny black bow from the nightstand and pinned her with a bleary look. “I could have you arrested.”

Surprise skittered through her. He’d been aware of her? Hounding him for days? Hiding in corners, calling his office, begging his chauffeur, stalking him?

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