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Marriage For One: Chapter 11


Almost an hour later, I was back in my office, eating lunch and answering emails when my phone vibrated on the desk with a new text message.

Rose: I’ll give your money back to you as soon as I see you.

Sighing, I put down my fork and knife and picked up my phone.

Jack: You stayed quiet about that for long enough. It’s been an hour. You’re still on that?

Rose: It was lunch time. You’re not paying me for a cup of coffee. Also, today’s customer count is a total of 68. All the sandwiches are gone. Yay!

Jack: I’m not gonna keep talking about money with you. Congratulations on the new customers. You’re counting them?

Rose: Of course I’m counting them. Who wouldn’t? And what about what other people think about the money? Sally asked a ton of questions about you after you left. Whose husband would pay for coffee at his wife’s coffee shop?

It was little things like this that were slowly cracking my resolve against her. No one else would count their customers. No one else would smile as big and beautiful as she did when they saw me, simply because I showed up. No one else would work their ass off every day and night and still find a way to bust my balls. No one else would dare to slam the door in my face, but she did all of those things, and because of that—because of her—I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to keep up my part of the charade.

Jack: And I should care about Sally because…? Your husband pays for his coffee because he wants his wife to succeed.

Rose: I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know what to say to you sometimes.

I smiled at my phone.

Jack: See, we’re doing just fine as a fake married couple. That sounded a lot like what a wife would say to her husband. Also, you didn’t get jumpy when I put my hands on you this time. I’d call that progress.

Rose: Yeah, because you came at me like a turtle.

I was drinking water when her text came in, and reading it started a coughing fit. It lasted long enough that Cynthia walked in to see if everything was all right. I sent her away and picked my phone back up.

Jack: I’ll try to work on it.

Rose: There should be a middle ground, I think, but it was a good start. Definitely closer to the type of couple I’d want to be if I were really married.

Jack: Right. Hopefully I didn’t embarrass you too much.

Rose: No, it was fine. They all thought it was very romantic. Everyone loves a good forehead kiss.

Jack: I’m guessing you don’t.

I checked the time. I had another half an hour before I needed to head to the meeting room and get ready, and my lunch was still not done, not to mention I still had emails I needed to get back to. I didn’t have time to text anyone, let alone get into a texting marathon, but when it was Rose on the other end of those messages, I couldn’t seem to help myself.

Rose: I mean, there is nothing wrong with it, I guess. It’s just a little weird sometimes. Why not kiss me on the lips instead? With the right guy, even a simple cheek kiss can make things happen, or a temple kiss, or a neck one, or one on the skin just below your ear. I just don’t get the significance.

Jack: Make things like what happen?

It took her longer to respond.

Rose: Things.

Jack: I see.

Rose: That was not me saying I’d prefer you to kiss me on the lips instead of the forehead. The next time, I mean, when that kind of thing is necessary to do again.

Jack: I can try if you’d like to see how it’d work out.

Rose: I mean, it’s your preference. You should do whatever feels right.

Her lips then—next time it would be her lips I would taste.

Rose: I just don’t want you to think I was fishing for a kiss or something like that.

Jack: Is there a reason we’re still texting and not talking on the phone instead? This is not efficient.

Rose: Like I said, I don’t know what to say to you sometimes.

Jack: I think you’re doing just fine considering the number of texts you’ve sent in the last five minutes. There is something I forgot to tell you when I was there.

Lately everything had started to slip my mind when she was close to me.

Jack: There is a charity event we need to attend this weekend. It’s this Saturday. Do you think you can make it?

Rose: That was our deal. You held up your end, I’ll do the same.

I thought that would be the end of our impromptu text conversation, but more kept coming.

Rose: So what are you doing?

Jack: Eating lunch. I have a meeting in half an hour.

Rose: You’re out at lunch?

Jack: In my office.

Rose: You’re eating lunch in your office by yourself?

Jack: Yes.

Rose: Why didn’t you tell me? I make great sandwiches.

I looked down at my high-priced steak lunch and wished I had a sandwich instead.

Jack: Next time.

Rose: Okay. I’ll let you go so you can finish eating before the meeting.

I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, because calling her was not what I was supposed to do next. She answered on the second ring right when I put her on speaker.

“Jack? Why are you calling?”

“After receiving all these texts, I’d say you’re not annoyed or angry with me anymore, correct?”

Her voice sounded a little sheepish when she answered. “Not at the moment. I’m not the best at holding grudges, as you can see.”

I’m gonna have to remind you of that when the time comes.

“I’m guessing things are not busy at the coffee shop if you can text for that long.”

“And I’m guessing you hate texting.” She was right; I really did. “We do have customers,” she continued. “Wait, let me check.” There was silence for a few seconds then her voice came back on the line. “Eight tables full and four more at the bar. I’m covering the front and talking to you. Oh wait, customer number sixty-nine just walked in.”

“I’m hanging up then.”

“Why? No. Stay on the line—I’ll be right back.”

I should’ve hung up. Instead, I listened to her take an order.

“Jack, you there?”

“You told me to wait.”

“Good. I’m preparing two macchiatos. They’re to-go. Are we going to do something tonight?”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like any events, work dinners, client meetings?”

“I was under the assumption you weren’t a fan of those.”

“I’m not, but the last time wasn’t so bad. We can have fun or make it fun—this whole make-believe thing, especially since I know you better now.”

“You think you know me?”

“Oh, yes, Jack Hawthorne. I’ve pretty much figured you out. One second.”

She went back to her customer and, like a fool, I kept waiting, anxious to hear what she was going to say next.

“I’m back. What was I saying?”

“You think you figured me out.”

“Ah, yes. I actually have a pretty good idea what kind of person you are.”

“Are you going to share or are you going to make me wait for it?”

“Oh, I’m going to make you wait. I think you’ll like that more.”

“I won’t. Tell me now.”

Her laughter rang in my ears and I closed my eyes, drinking it in.

“Nope. Oh, customer seventy and seventy-one just walked in. I’ll see you tonight, Jack. Show someone some smiles for me. Bye!”

Just like that, she hung up, leaving me wanting for more. Is this my life now?

My mood only declined when I tried to focus on the documents in front of me and couldn’t. All I could think about was how I could dig myself out of this grave I’d ended up in. When the time came, I left for the meeting. Thankfully, everything else was ready, so after doing a quick check on the documents just to confirm everything was in order, I stepped out of my office.

Cynthia greeted me, standing up.

“If you’re ready, let’s go.”

She grabbed her tablet and followed me.

“Bryan Coleson called. Twice, today.”

I gritted my teeth, but didn’t answer.

“Did you tell her?”

I stopped moving. She took a few steps but, realizing I wasn’t walking anymore, stopped and backtracked.

“You’re going to stop asking me that question,” I forced out, trying my best not to be too rude.

“I have so much respect for you, Jack. You know I do. I’ve been working with you for years and I’ve never done this, but right now you need someone to tell you you’re doing wrong. I’m that someone. As foreign as that idea is, you know you’re doing wrong.”

“We’re late to the meeting. If you want to—”

“No, we’re not. Morrison called ten minutes ago to say he’d be late. Gadd is waiting with his lawyers.”

I tried again. “I respect you, too, Cynthia. Like you said, you’ve been with me for years now, but this doesn’t concern you, and I’d think after the years we’ve spent together, you’d know better than to push me on this.”

“I care about you, so I’d say I should.”

I started walking again, silently passing some of the senior associates as they greeted me. Cynthia kept up with my pace, not uttering another word. I thought she was finally done, but that changed when no one else was in sight and it was just us again.

“Just tell her. It’s not too late.”

I came to another abrupt stop. Ready for it this time, she halted next to me, a little out of breath. After glancing behind me, I pulled her into a small junior associate office and closed the door. Our voices would still carry outside, but at least it would be muffled and there would be some semblance of privacy.

“I’m not going to have this same conversation with you again. This is my last warning.”

“You telling me not to talk about this again is not us having a conversation about it.”

“What the hell has gotten into you today?” I asked, frustrated and not sure how to handle this side of my assistant.

“I told you: the day you made this ridiculous deal, I told you not to do it. This was the stupidest idea you’ve ever had.”

“You think I don’t fucking know that?” I growled, my temper boiling over. “You think I didn’t figure that out the second she went along with my plan?”

“Then what’s the problem? Just tell her.”

“Tell her what, for fuck’s sake? Tell her I basically stalked her and the more I learned about her, the more interested I became? Or should I tell her I don’t give a damn about the property?”

“You didn’t stalk her, Jack. You were trying to help her. She’ll understand when you explain it to her.”

“Trying to help by marrying her? There were a number of other things I could’ve done to help her, Cynthia. Getting married wasn’t at the top of the list—it shouldn’t have been on the list at all. I was being a selfish bastard.”

“Your own gain—”

My voice had risen enough that George, who was just passing by, stopped and opened the door.

“What’s going on here? I can hear your voices from a mile away. Aren’t you supposed to be at the Morrison and Gadd meeting?”

“I’m heading there now,” I gritted through my teeth. “We just picked up a file we needed.”

Frowning at us, George accepted the lie and, giving us a final confused look, walked away.

Cynthia started on me before I could utter another word.

“You had me look into her a year ago. Why did you wait so long to introduce yourself?”

“I’m only going to tell you one more time, Cynthia: if you ever say another word on this subject, I will fire you on the spot and not even think twice about it. I don’t give a damn whether you’re the best or not.”

Without waiting for her to even acknowledge what I had just said, I stormed out of the room and headed straight to the meeting.

By the time the meeting was over, my head was pounding and I was ready to end the day and leave. It was only five PM, though, so I was stuck in my office for a few more hours going through more paperwork.

Cynthia was smart enough to stay out of my sight the entire time. I took all my frustrations out on work and didn’t even think about anything else for the rest of the day, which is why when I ended my last phone call and lifted my head, I was so surprised to see Rose standing just outside my office door, talking to my assistant. Trying to keep my anger with Cynthia in check, I slowly rose from behind my desk and strode toward them.

When I pulled the glass door open a bit too fast, Rose jumped a little, her hand flying to her chest. “You scared me. How did you get here so fast? You were just sitting at your desk when I looked in.”

“What are you doing here?” I snapped, my eyes going from her to Cynthia.

Cynthia gave me a disapproving head shake, which I chose to ignore.

Rose’s eyes widened slightly, and I cursed myself. “I’m sorry. If this is a bad time, I don’t have to—”

“Come in.” When she didn’t move, I tried to soften my tone. “Please come in, Rose.” As she moved past me, I gave Cynthia a long look. “You’re done for the day. You can leave.”

“I was just thinking I should do that,” she replied coldly, and I gritted my teeth.

Closing the door and hoping Cynthia would leave as quickly as possible, I turned to find Rose standing in the middle of the room.

“Please, sit,” I said, gesturing to one of the leather chairs in front of my desk.

“Jack, if you’re busy—”

“I finished my last call. I’m not busy anymore.”

Keeping her eyes on me, she slowly sat down, her eyes studying me. “You look extra grumpy. I can leave.”

I sighed and ran my hand over my face, trying to get it together. “Extra grumpy?” I asked, my brows rising. She bit on her lower lip and shrugged. I had to force my gaze away from her mouth before I forgot about everything else and just acted. “No, you don’t have to leave. Too many meetings, too many calls, that’s all. I didn’t mean to be harsh out there, I just wasn’t expecting to see you.”

“That’s usually my line. You always show up when I’m not expecting you.” I couldn’t manage to smile back. “Ray came to the coffee shop when I was getting ready to close up, when he asked whether he should take me back to the apartment or pick you up first, I thought it’d be a nice change of pace—me picking you up, I mean.”

Her lips curved up slightly, and my eyes focused on that. Her smile was what had gotten me into this mess that first time we were introduced.

I just stared at her as a frown replaced her smile.

“Jack? Are you sure everything is okay? Is there something I can help with?”

Unfortunately, everything wasn’t okay. I was losing control, and it was all because of her, all because of the guilt I couldn’t get rid of. If I kept going down the same path, all I’d accomplish would be making her hate me. Cynthia’s words came back to me and I considered them for a second, considered telling Rose. Maybe if she heard everything, maybe if she knew what had happened and what I was thinking—I decided against it. I wasn’t ready to lose her just yet.

If I could find the courage to tell her one day and hope she’d still stay, things would have to change—drastically.

I’d need all the time I could get to try to make her feel something for me, and maybe along the way I would come up with a good way to admit that I’d deceived her from the very beginning, to admit that the reason I offered to marry her wasn’t to have someone to attend the parties with. I hated any and all events, rarely went to them. It wasn’t to appear to be a family man to appease clients, and it definitely wasn’t because I was interested in the property. I could’ve bought ten of them if I was so inclined.

But, to be able to tell her all of that, I’d have to forget about the guilt that was eating me up on the inside and focus on getting and keeping her attention.

Coming to a concrete decision, I focused on Rose. “Everything is great. Are you free to have dinner with me again tonight?”

That piqued her interest. “Takeout?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“Can we have pizza again?”

“If you’ll let me take a look at your knees, I’ll think about it.”

The look she gave me…

“That’s sounded a little kinky, Jack.”

The sweet smile on her lips that I had craved to be on the receiving end of for so long…

I was ruined.

In the end, we had the pizza, but she didn’t let me get a look at the damage to her knees. When it came to Rose, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Good thing, after getting to know her and spending so much time with her, I had no intention of backing off anymore.

Grabbing my phone, I found Bryan Coleson’s number from my contact list and hit call. Finally returning his call.


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