Marrying the man of your dreams after crushing on him for the last decade should be cause for celebration. So why am I crying alone in the honeymoon suite on my wedding night? Because there’s just one problem – it’s a fake marriage. Purely for appearances as part of a business deal between our fathers’ companies.
But I can’t sit idly by pretending this is only a platonic relationship, especially as sparks begin to fly between us. So what will I have to do to convince my stoic Prince Charming I want him for real? And what will I risk along the way?
The plan is simple – act like a husband in love publicly after I foolishly got myself involved in this fake marriage, and behind closed doors keep things separate. But the longer we continue this charade attending events and staging selfies, the more I’m unsure what’s fake and what’s not, especially when things start to heat up in private.
As the successor to my father’s billion dollar company, work has been my life. Focusing on my job has never been harder, though, when there’s a temptress living in my guest bedroom. What are the chances this business deal of a marriage could turn into the real thing? The last person I ever expected to fall for is… my wife.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I loved the idea of writing about three brothers who despite coming from a wealthy family, still are relatable people with problems all their own.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I love a grumpy/sunshine pairing where one character starts out guarded and stiff, but eventually has no choice but to let the other person in because of how positive and persistent they are.
Serena and Archer were side characters in another book I've written, so it was really nice to get to fully explore their characters in this story and for them to get their happily ever after.
“I can’t do this,” Gabriel says, his voice echoing off the walls of the ballroom.
If everyone’s attention wasn’t on us already, it definitely is now.
I stare at my fiance from across the altar, but he refuses to meet my eye, instead looking slightly over my shoulder. Not that I blame him. If I was announcing I’m not marrying someone in front of four hundred plus people, I wouldn’t want to look them in the eye either.
“You can’t?” the minister whispers, clearly at a loss on how to proceed.
“No.” Gabriel turns his head slightly, finally looking at me, the resoluteness in his gaze easing something within me. After all that heartache, all that worry that was making me literally sick to my stomach, I’m… free.
Now don’t get me wrong, Gabriel Bishop seems like a nice enough guy, but I barely know him. He’s not the reason I agreed to this business deal of a marriage to begin with.
His brother is.
My gaze cuts away from my fiance’s face to the man standing behind him. The best man. His brother.
Two years older than me and the star of my teenage fantasies back when we both attended Redmond Prep a decade ago, time has been kind to him, only growing more handsome with age in that way men do. Dark hair brushed back neatly off his face. Strong jaw accentuating full lips. Piercing blue eyes… suddenly turned on me.
Oh God, everyone’s looking, aren’t they? I glance out into the crowd, immediately regretting my decision as I realize people are no longer staring just because I’m the bride, but pointing too. Whispering to each other, eyes filled with pity. For me. The girl who’s getting dumped at the altar.
The relief from earlier at Gabriel’s announcement twists in my stomach, dragging me down, my arms prickling with dozens of invisible pins and needles as a disquieting wave washes over me.
My hands twist together and I wish I still had my bouquet to hide the way they’re trembling. The way my knees are barely holding me up. The way my back seems to hunch forward instinctively.
“He can’t marry her… because I’m in love with her.”
My gaze flies up to meet Archer’s, steady on mine, an embarrassingly loud gasp escaping me. Did I hear him right? Or am I in some kind of mental state of shock dreaming up a fantasy scenario to get me through the next few minutes?
But as he switches places with his brother, the minister backtracking through the script, it doesn’t seem like a dream as he repeats the vows, his deep, “I do,” sending a rush of warmth through me, scattering the anxiety away.
I stand in a daze, barely hearing the words I’m repeating myself, unable to process exactly what’s happening right now. Am I really marrying this man? And it turns out he… loves me?
He reaches into his breast pocket, pulling out two wedding bands, and motions for me to take the larger one. I blink rapidly, my brain taking a moment to catch up, and I carefully accept it from him, my only thought that this was originally meant for Gabriel. Will it even fit him?
“These rings are a symbol of your union. An unending journey you are about to embark on together,” the minister says as Archer slips the band over my left ring finger, his hand warm and steady where it briefly touches mine.
I nearly drop his ring with how badly my hands are shaking, and have to pause and regroup before I manage to get it on him.
He doesn’t seem to judge me for my nervousness, silent as the minister continues speaking, and I’m almost calm until we’re pronounced as husband and wife, those infamous you may now kiss the bride words making my stomach rise once again.
My hands grip the skirt of my dress at my sides, guilt momentarily flooding me as I realize I’ve torn the intricate beading. But I can’t worry about that now because the man I’ve dreamt about for the last decade is bending down to kiss me.
This is it. The moment I’ve been waiting for. If I could speak to my younger self, I’d tell teenage Serena not to give up hope. It’ll happen someday.
But a chaste peck on the lips is all I receive for my years of anticipation. I swear I’ve gotten more tongue action from dogs at the animal shelter than that.
It’s probably just because we’re in front of all these people. Archer is a reserved guy. And it would be tacky to get hot and heavy when I was literally supposed to marry his brother five minutes ago. That has to be it.
The recessional starts and the wedding planner, Mackenzie, thankfully has the presence of mind to give me my bouquet, my brain still in a fog as Archer holds his arm out to me and I loop my hand through the crook of his elbow, the fabric of his navy suit luxuriously soft.
The growing buzz of excitement around us surges in volume as we walk down the aisle, until I can barely hear myself think. The only thing I’m able to focus on is that steady chant in my head. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.
Me. Serena Montague. I honestly wasn’t sure he knew I existed. But maybe all this pining for him in secret was mutual after all. He certainly did a good job hiding it. Even I didn’t know.
I’m on cloud nine as we’re whisked away by the photographer to take pictures together, his body close to mine, a subtle spice emanating from him that must be his cologne. I inhale, drunk on his presence, on the knowledge that this man is my husband.
We’re too busy posing to speak privately, and when we’re finally finished, Mackenzie’s there to guide us over to the tail end of the cocktail hour. We’re almost immediately bombarded by all sorts of well wishers with thinly veiled requests for more information about this strange turn of events. Archer keeps tight-lipped, refusing to indulge their morbid curiosity, and I take his lead, mostly because I have no clue how to respond. This is all a happy surprise for me too.
When everyone takes their seats for dinner, I realize my cheeks are aching from smiling so much. The food is to die for, our first dance perfection as I gently sway in Archer’s arms, the bouquet toss thrilling as a woman I’ve never met whoops and hollers in delight after catching it. Mackenzie’s there by my side directing us as we cut the cake, the feel of my husband’s hand warm on top of my own. He holds his fork out to me and I take a bite, a smile overtaking my face at his romantic gesture.
How could I have missed any sign from him that he felt this way about me? Did he not want to tip Gabriel off? But then why not say something back when the engagement first started? I assumed it was a family decision.
It all still seems so unreal. This honorable, kind, brilliant, insanely attractive man is mine. My husband.
He takes my arm at the end of the night, leading me out of the reception and toward the elevators. Up on the thirty-third floor is the honeymoon suite. Where Archer and I… A rush of goosebumps races across my skin at what’s to come. We’ve been surrounded by people the entire time, unable to have a private conversation. Once we’re alone, maybe he’ll want to give me a proper kiss. One that would have been entirely inappropriate at the altar.
I hold my hand over my stomach as we ascend, containing the butterflies trapped there, biting my lip so he won’t see the goofy smile that wants to break through. Almost time now.
The elevator dings upon our arrival, room 3301 directly in front of us as the metal doors slide open. I turn to him, expecting him to lift me in his arms and carry me bridal style into the room, but he merely pulls the key card out of his pocket and swipes it, holding it open for me, his face impassive.
Okay, maybe he doesn’t know about that tradition.
I squeeze the tulle layers of my gown through the doorway, eyeing him as he passes by me to slump down in a chair in the corner. He sighs as he scrubs a palm over his jaw, weariness radiating off him.
I stand awkwardly in the middle of the room as he continues to ignore me, staring down at his glossy shoes. Shouldn’t we be kissing already?
He fumbles at his neck to loosen his tie, leaning forward to remove his jacket next, his shoulders broad and defined even through his dress shirt. I release a breath, my stomach easing. He’s just getting comfortable before we get to the good stuff.
But when he pulls out his phone and starts scrolling, the butterflies from earlier sink.
“I’ll wait around for a bit and slip out a back exit once it’s died down.”
Um, what now?
“You’re an amazing actress by the way. I don’t think anyone suspected.”
My knees suddenly give and I stagger over to the bed, barely reaching it in time. If he thought I was acting, does that mean… he’s acting?
“You said you loved me.” I can’t help how small my voice sounds, how pathetic. I’m not capable of mustering anything stronger it seems.
“It’s the only thing I could think of in the moment,” he says distractedly, attention still focused on his phone. “I was just trying to recover the situation. Dad really wants this deal to go through.”
“Right,” I choke out, a weight settling in my chest. I try to take a deep breath, but the heaviness spreads, pushing my shoulders down, compressing my lungs. It’s all I can do not to let out the sob that’s building inside.
“Are you okay?”
I glance up, realizing his focus is finally on me, right when I least want it. I rub at my breastbone, then make a motion toward my back. “Can you, um, loosen these corset strings? I can’t breathe.”
He settles in behind me on the bed, his breath warm against the nape of my neck. But instead of the sensation leaving a pleasant wash of shivers racing through me, it’s only more fuel for the icy dread creeping out from my chest.
When my dress is loose enough to take a deeper breath, I stand, holding the bodice up with one hand. “If you’ll excuse me,” I murmur, heading toward the bathroom.
I flip on the fluorescent light and accompanying exhaust fan, the humming drone drowning out the sound of my gasps as I brace my palms on the counter.
It was all an act? A way to preserve this asinine business deal our fathers have arranged? I still don’t even fully understand why Dad insisted on it to begin with.
“Do you need help?” Archer’s deep voice calls through the door. “With your dress? I won’t look.”
A mirthless chuckle escapes me. What a time to be a gentleman.
Outwardly, everything is perfect. I just married a man who’s set to inherit an insane amount of wealth one day. Who’s already the CFO of his father’s billion dollar company. The guy I had a raging crush on throughout high school. The one I’ve tried to forget about over the last decade.
And someone who apparently is following the same deal me and his brother had arranged. A marriage in name only for the sake of our fathers’ companies.
How did I not pick up on that? Am I really that delusional?
I take a few calming breaths, running my fingers carefully underneath my eyes to wipe away any stray tears before opening the door a sliver. “I’m going to take a bath. You can…” I swallow heavily, willing my voice not to shake. “You can leave whenever.” If I’m around him much longer, I might start blubbering on his shoulder.
“I’m meeting with my father tomorrow. We’ll come up with a game plan for the curveball I threw everyone.”
I nod, not that he can even see me through the slight crack in the door.
“And I’m sorry. I know you were supposed to marry-”
“It’s fine,” I interrupt him. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” I rest my forehead against the door frame, just wanting to escape this situation already. That’s what I’ve always been good at. Running away.
I close the door and plug the drain to the bathtub, turning on the tap. Laid out on the edge of the sparkling white tub is an assortment of high end toiletries, and I grab the bubble bath bottle, twisting off the top to dump it in. It takes me a minute to wiggle out of my dress and peel off my bridal lingerie, each layer I shed releasing a weight from me. I undo the complicated braid around the crown of my head, finger combing it out the best I can, and sink into the hot water, letting the jasmine scented bath soothe the tangle of my mind.
I’m married. To a man who doesn’t want to be married to me.
It’s no different from the situation I expected as of this morning when I thought I’d be marrying his brother, but knowing it’s Archer I won’t have a true marriage with somehow seems infinitely worse.
I was resigned to a married on paper but completely separate lives arrangement with Gabriel, but I don’t want that anymore. Now that I have Archer, I want the real deal.
Tonight, he’d radiated that same confidence and authority I remembered from high school, grown only stronger with time and experience. He’d been gracious with guests, accommodating to me as I’d trampled over his feet dancing, patient as he pretended to be in love. And even if it wasn’t real, he’s still everything I’ve ever wanted.
My eyes flutter shut, a hundred different scenarios racing through my mind, but in the end, it all boils down to one thing as a resolution settles upon me.
If I want a real marriage… I’ll have to make it one.
Allie is the author of the Suncoast University series, the Bishop Brothers series, and the upcoming Lessons Learned series. She lives in sunny Florida with her husband, daughter, and two cats. A librarian by day, she spends her nights writing happily ever afters.
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