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Marriage For One: Chapter 12

ROSE

Being married to Jack Hawthorne had turned out to have its own advantages—apart from the broody eye candy and the almost daily arm porn, I mean. As much as I didn’t care for the idea of having a driver take me to work, I didn’t put up any fight when Jack forced me to go with Raymond in the mornings instead of walking through Central Park and getting myself into situations—his word, not mine—because I knew it was safer.

I still mumbled under my breath and put up the illusion of a fight to look more impressive and fearless in his eyes, which sounded stupid when I thought about it more, but I still did it.

Being the prickly, no-nonsense guy he was, with a hand on my back—literally—he pushed me all the way down from the apartment to the car where Raymond was waiting next to the passenger door, as if I’d run away from him like a kid if he wasn’t keeping his hand on me. I was quite fine with the acting, because it kept his hand firmly on my back. So, joke’s on him. I managed to mumble and mutter the entire way down in the elevator, and he didn’t even utter a word.

There was something about his gruffness that I just loved. It would put some people off, it definitely had put me off, but the more I got to know him, the more I found it adorable.

As Raymond drove me to the coffee shop, I had an amused smile plastered on my face the whole time because Jack had looked so triumphant as he shut the car door in my face.

I chatted with Raymond to hide my giddiness and learned more about him. One particular subject that came up a few days into our morning rides was him trying the online dating scene for the first time in his life after divorcing his ex-wife, who he had caught cheating with one of his friends. Thank God they hadn’t had kids. We were both happy about that, and the retelling of the horrible and awkward dates provided much amusement that early in the morning.

At the end of the week, we pretty much knew almost everything about each other, and it had stopped feeling like he was my driver and had turned into going to work with a friend. It also helped that he was the only person who knew about our fake marriage and never even mentioned what a weird thing it was.

There were plenty of times when I wanted to prod him about Jack, just little questions here and there, but asking him how long he’d been with Jack was as far as I’d gotten.

He looked at me through the rearview mirror in a weird way. “Six years. He doesn’t let a lot of people in, but once you get to know him, he isn’t as bad as he looks.”

I thought he looked pretty great, but I was pretty sure Raymond wasn’t talking about his appearance. He surely possessed a wealth of information on the man who was my husband, but it didn’t feel right to pepper him with questions, so I chickened out. After a few days, I had accepted that I would have to personally experience the ultimate joy of learning about my fake one true love who hated sharing any kind of personal information willingly unless you hounded him about it for quite a while.

One thing I’d learned was that he hated when I asked and answered questions on my own as if speaking for him. That was a good way to get him all frowny and talking on his own. I didn’t think he liked me much when I did that, but then again, I didn’t think he liked me much most times.

I would have liked to think he tolerated me, and I thought that was at least a good starting point.

I, on the other hand, was actually getting used to his Grinch-like ways. The day he gave me a warm and genuine smile, I was going to celebrate with cake. I still didn’t like some things about him, like barely managing to greet people around him and maybe a few other things, but we weren’t in a real relationship so I didn’t feel like I had the right to nag him about any of them. To be fair, I thought it was just his personality. He didn’t go out of his way to ignore people. He couldn’t help it if he had been raised in a stuffy, rich family.

The only time I hated him a little bit in the entire week leading up to the weekend where we’d have to attend our first big event as a married couple was when he gave me his credit card in the kitchen on Wednesday.

“About the event on Saturday—this is important,” he started as he walked into thekitchen, startling me as I was reaching for the travel cups on the higher shelves.

“Jesus!” I sputtered as one of them came a little too close to landing on my face before it crashed to the floor. “What are you doing up so early?” I asked as we both crouched to pick it up. It played out just like in the movies. I was faster than him by a second and closed my hand around the cup just before he wrapped his big hand around mine. My head jerked up and I managed to hit his jaw with my head. All I heard was a grunt and then my cheeks were blazing.

“I had it,” I croaked, wincing and massaging my head where I had hit his surprisingly tough and perfectly shaped square jaw while still on my knees on the floor.

When I peered up again, he was rubbing his jaw as well. I didn’t know what else to add to the conversation when my eyes landed on him—he looked too good to be true for such an early hour even though he’d probably just rolled out of bed. I, however, had to wake up at least half an hour earlier than I was supposed to so I could make myself look somewhat presentable to the world.

Inwardly, I cursed myself for taking the extra ten minutes in bed that morning and deciding to do my makeup at the coffee shop. I tore my eyes away from him and got up on one knee. He extended his hand to help me get the rest of the way up. As soon as I reached for his hand and our skin made contact, we experienced a little zap of electric shock between us. I thought, just to be on the safe side, I should get up on my own, but he was still holding his hand out between us, so I gave it another go.

“I’d like to live through this day—don’t zap me,” I muttered, slowly taking his hand and letting him pull me up. When I was on my feet, I realized I was standing a bit too close to him, close enough to feel his body heat.

“Are you okay?” he asked, looking straight into my eyes with what looked like worry.

A little flustered by his closeness and his hypnotizing eye color, I remembered that I should probably let go of his hand.

“Yeah. Sure.” I took a step back from him, plastering myself against the edge of the counter. “Good morning. Hi.”

“Good morning.”

“You’re never up this early. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I am usually up this early.” He checked his watch. “You’re fifteen minutes late. Usually I don’t see you in the kitchen. You like to run down the stairs and out the door every morning. I can hear you when I’m having my coffee.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. If I knew you were in here, I’d say good morning before I left.”

“That would be nice.”

At his unexpected admission, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Nodding and clearing my throat under his unflinching gaze, I looked away. When I noticed he was closing the cabinet door, I stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“I need the other travel mug, too.”

“For what?” he questioned, glancing at my hand on his arm before he reached for it. I pulled my hand back and kept it behind my back so I wouldn’t get myself in more trouble.

I thanked him softly when he put the cup next to the other one on the counter, close to the shiny espresso machine. “The other one is for Raymond.”

“You two seem to get along well,” he commented casually—perhaps a little too casually.

I gave him a quizzical look before trying to refocus on the coffee. “We spend every morning together, so yeah. I mean, we talk. Is that a problem?”

“Of course not.” Looking a little uncomfortable, he shifted on his feet, surprising the hell out of me. “I was just trying to make conversation.”

Feeling like a jerk, I dropped my head forward and felt something tickling my nose. Thinking I was getting a nosebleed because something was definitely trickling down, I leaned my head back. “Oh, Jack, Jack—paper towel. I think my nose is bleeding.”

Keeping my head tilted back, I tried to blindly find the paper towel myself. Instead, I placed my hand on what felt like his forearm and held on.

I was not good with seeing blood. I didn’t faint or anything dramatic like that, but I wouldn’t have called myself a fan of it either.

“Here,” Jack murmured, and I felt him gently cup the back of my head. “Stay still.” Then he pushed the paper towel into my hand and I curled my fingers around it.

His hand holding my head up and my hand gripping his shoulder, I held the towel up to my nose and slowly, with his help, started to straighten myself. Something definitely did run down my nose, but when I looked down at the paper, I felt like a complete moron.

My face flaming and my ears ringing, I loosened my death grip on his incredibly muscled shoulders and turned my back to him, wishing the floor would open up and I could just disappear.

“What is it?” he asked, his voice coming from right over my shoulder, his breath tickling my neck.

Dear God. I closed my eyes.

“Nothing. It’s not bleeding—false alarm,” I croaked and stationed myself back in front of the espresso machine, sniffling constantly—because something was still coming down—and trying to hide my red face the entire time.

“What’s wrong with your voice?”

The croak hadn’t been just because of my embarrassment. My throat actually did hurt a little when I swallowed, but I’d thought it was nothing when I first woke up. Add my runny nose into the mix, though, and maybe it was something more.

“My throat is hurting a little. It’s probably nothing, just a little cold.”

“Are you going to be sick?”

“No, it’s nothing. I’ll be fine for the event.” It was neither attractive nor helpful when I had to sniffle a few times right at the tail end of my sentence.

“That’s not why I asked, Rose.”

I gave him a quick look before touching the screen for the espresso. “Oh, well, still…I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”

“You’ve been working too hard.”

“You work hard, too. You lock yourself in your office even after we get back here every night. What’s that got to do with anything?” I shrugged, still trying to keep my head slightly tilted back to avoid any liquid coming down my nose. “It’s probably the cold weather. I never get sick for too long. It’ll go away in a day or two.” The espresso stopped dripping, so I started steaming the milk. “Were you saying something about the event on Saturday when you first came into the kitchen?” I raised my voice so he could hear me, but he was already one step ahead of me because he had gotten even closer and was now standing right behind me.

His chest touched my back as he leaned forward and pushed something in front of me. One hand holding the milk jug in place, I looked down to see a credit card.

“What’s that?”

“My credit card.”

“I can see that. What is it for?” When the steaming was done, I swirled it for a bit so the bubbles would settle down. Pouring the espresso into the travel cups, I followed it with the steamed milk. Securing their tops, I faced Jack, waiting for his answer.

“The event is going to be a big to-do, so I’d like you to buy something appropriate for the evening.”

It was him saying things like this with that unreadable expression of his that made me not like him sometimes.

“Did I do a bad job last time? At the dinner with your partners?” I asked, avoiding his gaze.

“No. Stop putting words into my mouth.”

“Then what is this?” I pushed the credit card back toward him.

His forehead creased, and since I’d dropped my gaze from his eyes, I watched a muscle in his jaw twitch. “So you can buy a dress for an event you’re going to attend because of me. You don’t need to spend your own money. Save it for the rent you’re eventually gonna be paying me.” He pushed the black plastic back toward me.

“I can buy my own dress and pay rent, Jack.”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t, Rose, but I’m saying I’d like to buy this one.”

It was the fact that I couldn’t argue further that got to me the most, I thought, that I really couldn’t afford to buy a dress that would be appropriate for someone who would be on his arm for a big charity event. We were worlds apart. If we had met under different circumstances, we would have had nothing in common. A ‘we’ wouldn’t have been a possibility. So…we really were playing pretend, and I had to get that into my head whenever I was looking into his eyes and starting to catch feelings.

No more feeling mushy when he came to the coffee shop—which happened often.

No more jumpy heart whenever he walked through the door.

No more of those excited little butterflies everyone kept talking about being all fluttery in my stomach.

This was a business deal between two adults, nothing less, nothing more.

Logically, he was right. I wouldn’t be going to such a high-profile event if it weren’t for him, so it made sense that he’d buy the dress, but I couldn’t ignore how small it made me feel around him.

“Okay, Jack.”

Without another word, I picked up the credit card.

I was more than ready to leave for work and get far away from him. I was quietly passing Jack when his hand on my arm stopped my movement. I was expecting him to ask me his favorite question: What’s wrong with you? I was trying to come up with an answer that would let me get out of the kitchen quicker when his other hand gently nudged my chin up and my surprised eyes met his. His thumb gently swiped back and forth on my jawline as if he had no control of it. Then it stopped and his hand slowly cupped my cheek.

My heart jumped in my chest—even though I’d decided mere moments ago that it wasn’t allowed to do that—and then slowly started to pick up speed as I realized I couldn’t look away from his searching eyes. My lips parted because I wanted to say his name, wanted to tell him to…not look at me so intently, as if we weren’t as fake as it got. I wanted to say I didn’t think I could take it anymore.

His expression softened, the creases on his forehead smoothing out.

“Buy whatever you want, for me.”

For him? I nodded, incapable of stringing two words together. His gaze moved across my face, pausing on my lips, and I simply forgot how to breathe. What was he doing? What witchery was this?

First you breathe out and then in. No, you need to breathe in first. You need air in your lungs first to be able to breathe out.

“Something white, maybe, or nude,” he continued, unaware of my flustered state. “You look good in those colors.”

I do?

What in the world was happening?

I tried to fire up my brain so I could think if he’d ever seen me in white, but other than maybe a white blouse I wore over my black jeans, I couldn’t think of a single outfit.

I swallowed and managed another nod.

If at that moment he had smiled at me, I was fairly certain it would have pushed me straight out of my trance because I would’ve been sure this was a copy of Jack Hawthorne—a really gorgeous one, but just a copy—but he didn’t. When I didn’t stumble after he let go of my arm, I thought I could survive anything, but then he tucked the longest part of my bangs behind my ear and started leaning toward me. He was only a tad quicker than a turtle this time, but it still gave me time to slightly lean back with widened eyes.

“What are you doing?” I whispered.

He completely ignored my attempt to protect myself and gently pressed a kiss right under my jawline on my neck.

I forgot how to breathe, how to exist in this new world.

“Let me know the customer count sometime. Text me.”

If I had tilted my head back any more, I’d have toppled over.

“But you said you don’t like texting.”

“Text me anyway.”

Breathing was still a problem, because when he pulled his hands off my body, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Did I leave now? Did I just stay and stare? He must’ve realized I was frozen, but he didn’t make any comments as I stood stock-still trying to figure out what had just happened.

He casually looked down at his watch and I realized how tightly he was holding himself.

“Raymond must be waiting for you,” he commented, turning to the espresso machine, probably for his own morning coffee. I finally got unstuck.

“Er…right. Yes. I am late, aren’t I? You should, umm, have a good day at the office.” He faced me, leaning against the counter, hands gripping the edge of the white marble. “Happy…day!” I added at the end, as if that would make anything better, and then I turned around.

I closed my eyes and wished myself a quick death as I quickly got out of there. I was only three steps out of the kitchen when his voice stopped me in my tracks.

“Rose.”

I didn’t answer. Words were still precious to come by, in my case.

“You forgot the coffee.”

I closed my eyes, turned, put one foot in front of the other, and strolled back into the kitchen, keeping my eyes safely away from his.

I mumbled a quick thank you as he handed me the stainless steel cups. I tried my best not to touch him in the process, but it was unavoidable, and my eyes flew up to his when his fingers skimmed mine.

He tilted his head, eyes on my finger. I knew what he was looking at.

“You’re wearing it.”

I brought the mugs closer to my chest, trying to hide my ring finger. “I’ve been wearing it all the time. You know this.”

“Good,” he mumbled, his eyes holding mine.

“What is happening here?” I asked suspiciously, because I really couldn’t tell and I really needed to know what was going on so I could somehow take cover.

“Nothing. Have a good morning, Rose.”

Even more suspicious and a little off-kilter, I turned around and left without saying anything else. Too busy in my own thoughts, I didn’t say much to anyone for the rest of the morning.

The number of times Jack Hawthorne smiled: none. (I’ve lost hope. Help.)


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