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Marriage For One: Chapter 6

ROSE

“Rose! Your phone is ringing!” Sally shouted from the main area where she was unloading some old books I had bought from the cutest bookstore earlier that day.

“Coming!” I yelled back from the kitchen where I was unloading a huge amount of baking and sandwich-making staples. Putting down the half-empty sugar bag I was getting ready to pour into a huge glass jar, I came out of the kitchen.

“It just stopped ringing,” Sally commented, her eyes still on the book in her hand. Then she resumed her humming to the soft music coming through the speakers.

Even though she wasn’t looking at me from her spot on the floor in front of the bookcase, I nodded and scrounged in my bag to find my phone. Just as my hand connected with it, it started to go off again. Pulling it out, I saw his name flashing on the screen.

Jack Hawthorne.

I thought maybe I should change it to Ball and Chain sometime.

I checked the clock on the wall and hesitated. I was sure he was calling about the dinner with the partners.

My finger hovering over the green button, I made an unintelligible sound in my throat. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to answer a call from Jack at that moment. I clicked on the side button to silence it and put it on the counter, just staring at it as if he would magically appear on the screen and give me a scowling look.

It stopped ringing and I sighed. I was being stupid.

After we’d headed home the night before, he had given me the keys for the apartment, and I had gone straight up to my room again. Since I was up at five AM again, I’d pulled the same disappearing act I had all the days before. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t guess where I’d gone if he came looking for me again, but I was starting to think maybe I was being impolite by not hanging around.

With Jack being proper and polite at all times, every one of my actions was…well, I was sticking out like a sore thumb. The guy had moved my bookcase, helped me with the wooden shelf, and painted my walls, for crying out loud. Men like Jack had people to do stuff like that for them. He had a driver. His house was perfect. He always wore expensive suits, day in and day out. He was distant with everyone. Again, men like that had other people do their dirty work. Living with the Colesons I had seen people like him plenty of times.

When I was a teenager, I would go out with the family when they wanted to show me off to their friends—not because they loved me like their own or anything remotely close to that, but because they wanted their rich friends to think they were generous and big-hearted people.

Look at us, we saved this girl.

I remembered going to fancy restaurants and dinner parties ‘as a family’ but ending up being completely ignored by everyone, including Gary, who was the only one who cared about me even a little. All I did was wear what Angela wanted me to wear, show up, eat what was put in front of me, be quiet and look happy.

However, my happiest memories were not born in those places with those people. They were born in the kitchen of their home where I spent most of my time when I wasn’t in my room, and they were made with the housekeeper, Susan O’Donnell, who I had breakfast and dinner with every day. Some days, Gary wanted me to join them in the dining room, but they weren’t like Susie, who made me laugh with her stories. They didn’t have easy conversations even when it was just the four of them. They didn’t laugh from the heart, didn’t love from the heart.

Still, there was one fact we’d all agreed on: Gary had saved me. Reluctantly or not. I was thankful, just like they wanted me to be, and I would be for the rest of my life.

However—and that is a loaded however—I couldn’t say I’d forgotten about those dinners, the house parties, the get-togethers, and tonight’s dinner with the partners was one of the last things I wanted to do, but I had made a deal. Playing pretend was something I wasn’t so bad at. Didn’t mean I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t bad at it.

When the screen lit up with a new text message, I picked it up.

Jack: Answer your phone.

For some reason, that simple text had me smiling harder than a text that short should have. It definitely drew Sally’s attention.

“What’s going on? Good news?” she asked, her neck stretched so she could see what I was doing.

I waved her off. “Nothing. Just a text.” A text that was pure Jack Hawthorne.

“Oh! Share with the class, please. Love stories are my favorite kind of stories.”

“Unfortunately, no love story here.” I still hadn’t told her I was married, not because I was trying to hide it but because I didn’t know how to explain my husband. “Maybe you’ve spent enough time with the stories there. Wanna switch out books for sugar and flour?”

“Sure.” In one quick move, she was up and sauntering toward me, her ponytail swishing from side to side. “You mind if I turn on the music back there, too?”

“Not at all. Go for it.”

I grabbed my phone and headed toward the books that were scattered on the floor. I lowered myself onto the cushion she had been sitting on, crossed my legs, and took a deep breath. As Sally started another playlist on Spotify, I called Jack back instead of waiting for him to call me once again.

He answered on the third ring. “Rose.”

“Jack.”

I kept waiting for him to say more since he was the one who had called first, but he said nothing. “If you’re busy, I can call later.”

“No. I wouldn’t answer if I was busy.”

“Okay then. Why were you calling?”

I was hoping maybe dinner had been canceled.

“It’s almost five. We need to be at the restaurant at seven. I’m heading out of the office in a minute—would you like me to pick you up?”

“Oh, yes please. Around six, maybe?” My eye caught on a book that was still in one of the cardboard boxes, so I grabbed it and checked the back cover.

“That won’t work. With the traffic, it will take us at least forty-five minutes to get to the restaurant. Add to that the drive from your coffee shop to the apartment, and we wouldn’t make it in time.”

“No, you can just pick me up on your way to the restaurant.”

He said nothing.

“I’ll get dressed here. I bought the dress today, so I don’t need to go to the apartment. I’ll be ready when you get here.”

A few seconds passed where neither one of us spoke. I placed the book in my hand on the third shelf and picked another one up from the floor. “Jack?”

“Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t have a—never mind. I’ll be there at six.”

“Okay. I’ll be ready.” I hesitated for a moment, not sure if it was my place to ask. “Is everything okay?”

“Of course. I’ll see you at six. Goodbye, Rose.”

“Okay. Go—”

And the line went dead.

It was going to be a long night for sure.


When Sally left around five-thirty after sitting around and chatting with me, I went straight back to the kitchen to get ready. Since my wardrobe didn’t include a dress fancy enough to go with one of Jack’s expensive suits, I had gone out and looked for something I could wear that wouldn’t look too cheap while I was standing next to him. I didn’t want a painful repeat of the day we got married. Thankfully, I’d found something in the second store I rushed into when I headed out on my lunch break.

It was as simple as a black dress could get. It was made of a thin material, the name of which I had no idea whatsoever, and had short sleeves. It hugged my hourglass body lightly from what I could see after craning my neck to the left and right in the dressing room, and it ended about six or seven inches above my knee. The front V was a bit deeper than I was accustomed to, but it wasn’t bad enough to look for something else. More importantly, since it wasn’t exactly a winter dress, it was on sale. I didn’t have the time to search every store in the city for just the right thing. I tried it, it fit, so I bought it. It was also a bit pricier than I would normally pay for a dress, not a luxury brand or anything like that, but again, I was going for a look that wouldn’t make me feel extremely cheap next to Jack. So, I accepted that this specific look came with a price tag.

I was able to get ready in twenty minutes and had even managed to turn my light makeup into something more suitable for evening. In other words, a whole lot of concealer was covering the dark circles under my eyes, and my cheeks were touched with a little blush—quite a bit, actually. Checking the time, I rushed through my eyes by applying a little black pencil along my lash line and smudging it with my finger until it resembled something smoky and acceptable instead of a complete mess. Just as I was done applying mascara, my phone pinged with a new message.

Jack: Open the door.

I snorted; my husband had such a way with words. I looked at myself in the mirror we had on the inside of the little bathroom in the back. Smoothing my dress and trying to tame my boobs, which looked bigger because of the deep V, I inspected my makeup closer. I didn’t look like a complete hot mess, which meant I looked okay. “Shit!” I exclaimed, noticing I’d completely forgotten about my hair. I had braided it two hours earlier so I could have something that resembled a wavy look, so I tore off the hair tie at the end and started to unwind the strands in a hurry. Before I could finish, my phone started to go off.

I ran back to the counter, and after confirming it was Jack, I ran to the door, my hands in my hair, trying to tame it down and mess it up at the same time. It was a very special look.

Stopping next to the door, I ran my hands through my bangs for the last time, unlocked the door, threw it wide open and ran away before he could get a good look at me.

“We’ve been waiting for you outside. You’re late,” Jack said as soon as he stepped inside.

“You’re five minutes early,” I countered over my shoulder without looking back as I kept running straight back to the kitchen to put my jacket on. After tying the thin belt around my waist, I grabbed my handbag and rushed back to Jack. “I’m ready,” I mumbled, a little out of breath. My eyes were down as I was struggling to open the front zipper on my bag so I could throw my phone in. When it was done and I finally looked up, all the white noise coming from the city outside my door seemed to disappear. I couldn’t think of anything intelligible to say.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

My favorite curse word was the only thing that came to my mind, and I didn’t think it would be appropriate to say out loud in this situation.

Jack was wearing black slacks, which wasn’t anything surprising, but it was definitely the first time I was seeing him without a button-up shirt on. Instead, he was wearing a thin grey sweater with the arms slightly pushed up, giving me a view of the watch on his wrist.

A simple grey sweater and a watch had rendered me completely speechless. Like the jackass I was, I let my eyes wander from his fitted sweater to his belt and down to his black shoes. His face was just as it always was: same sharp jawline, same deep blue eyes, same rough stubble, a no-nonsense look in his eyes and the usual frown between his eyebrows. His hair looked like it had been roughly raked back with his hands with some sort of matte product.

Overall, he looked…okay. Fine, maybe a bit more than okay.

Staring into his eyes, wanting to play it safe, I waited for him to say something. I didn’t want to give it away too much that I might actually be attracted to him.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

I shook my head.

He studied me some more. “Ready then?”

I nodded, not saying a word.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I released a long sigh. “Nothing is wrong with me. What’s wrong with you?”

His stare intensified, so before I could get myself in trouble, I reached past him and opened the door, lightly bowing like an idiot who didn’t know what to do with herself and gesturing for him to leave. He stood there for another moment then, shaking his head at me, walked out. Taking care of the lights and pushing in the code to the alarm, I locked everything up and closed the door. Resting my forehead against it, I quietly murmured to myself and faced Jack, who was waiting for me with his hands in the pockets of his pants just a few steps ahead. I looked down the street a short ways and saw his car waiting for us.

As soon as I was next to Jack, he walked ahead and opened the door for me. I got in and scooted to the other end. “Hi, Raymond. I’m sorry for making you wait.”

Jack got in after me and closed the door. I was fairly sure Raymond was the only person who knew about our fake marriage. He had been our only witness at city hall, and even if he hadn’t been there, there was no reality where he would believe we were a newly married couple who were crazy in love after seeing us together for the last two weeks.

Since I was looking at the rearview mirror, I saw his small but genuine smile. “It’s all good. We didn’t wait for too long.”

I smiled back.

See, I thought as I gave Jack side eye. Why can’t you be like Raymond and smile at me just once or twice?

He started talking to Raymond and then we were on the way to our destination. I closed my eyes and breathed in, only to be assaulted by Jack’s cologne.

Dear God.

Dear God! That was all I could think of as I slowly let it all out and tried not to breathe much. His other cologne, the one I’d smelled on him every day for the last two weeks, was not as deep and musky as this one. This one would pretty much knock anyone off their ass and make them start salivating, fake wife or not. I pushed the button on the armrest to roll the window down a bit and let a little fresh air snap me out of my idiocy.

“How far away is it, Raymond?” I asked when I found my voice again. “The restaurant, I mean.”

“Half an hour, maybe a little more, Mrs. Hawthorne.”

I groaned on the inside and looked at Jack. “Did you change your cologne?”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure if I like it.” I loved it. I loved it too much.

He rolled his watch around his wrist and looked away from me. “Too bad for you.”

How had I known he would say something along those lines? I faced the window and smiled. He was starting to grow on me. If I had learned one thing about Jack Hawthorne, it was how unwilling he was to make small talk, and since I wasn’t eager to spend almost an hour in silence, I decided I’d have to be the one to start talking. Yet, when I glanced at Jack and saw him sitting so relaxed and looking out his window, I couldn’t come up with any interesting topics. I thought I was really good at pushing his buttons, but for some reason, I decided the cologne comment was enough for our car ride.

Giving up on every idea of small talk that came after that, I rested my temple on the cold glass window and closed my eyes. I didn’t know how many minutes passed in silence, but when I heard Jack’s soft voice, I forced my eyes to open with some difficulty, not having even realized I’d fallen asleep.

“Rose?”

I glanced to my right only to find him watching me carefully. The car wasn’t moving, so apparently I’d dozed off for longer than I’d thought. “Are we there?” I covered my mouth with the back of my hand and yawned.

His frown smoothed out and he shook his head. “We’re at a stoplight, almost there. You’re tired.”

At least that was better than You look awful. You’re tired was just a fact and I could live with that. “The makeup didn’t hide it enough, then,” I muttered. I was a whole lot of things, not just tired. I dropped my head back and took a deep breath. “Sorry for dozing off.”

The light turned green.

“I take it you didn’t get any sleep last night either?”

“I did, actually—five hours this time. I’m hoping tonight is the night I’ll sleep my usual amount.”

Two police cars with their sirens blaring passed us and my eyes followed them.

“Are you sure you’re up for this dinner?” Jack asked when it was quieter—as quiet as New York got.

Sitting up straighter, I turned to him. “Of course. I won’t disappoint you, Jack.” At least I wouldn’t make things worse, I was sure of that much. If all else failed, I’d just be silent and moody like Jack, and they’d think we were a good fit.

The frown came back in full force. “That’s not what I asked.”

“No, I know, but I’m up for it. I got ready, and I’m here. I just wanted you to know…that I wouldn’t disappoint you.”

After we shared an awkwardly long look as the passing city lights illuminated his face, we both fell silent.

Too soon, Raymond stopped the car and I looked out the window. We were parked in front of the restaurant where we would meet with Jack’s partners.

“Try to look half alive at least,” Jack said.

It was going to be a complete disaster. They were never going to believe we were in love. There was no way.

“Such pretty words. If you want half alive, that’s what you’ll get. If you had asked me to look fully alive, I would’ve definitely disappointed you. Half alive, though? You’re in luck.”

The butterflies in my stomach instantly started a riot. I didn’t even notice Jack had gotten out of the car until he opened my door. Snapping out of my private panic, I scooted forward to exit. Noticing the bulky handbag clutched in my fingers, I paused and met Raymond’s gaze. “Would it be okay if I left my bag in the car?”

“Of course, Mrs. Hawthorne.”

I met his eyes in the rearview mirror again and gave him a pleading look. “I’d really feel so much better if you would just call me Rose. Please.”

He gave me a small nod and a barely there smile. “I’ll do my best.”

I forced my lips to curve up and got out of the car without my purse. Brushing my hands on the fabric of my jacket, I waited for Jack to close the door. Then Raymond pulled away and it was just the two of us, standing on the edge of the sidewalk right in front of the double doors of the very brightly lit and full restaurant.

“No handbag?” he asked, noticing my empty, nervous hands.

I stopped the fidgeting and shook my head, my eyes still on those big double doors—the gateway to my hell. “I didn’t have one that was elegant enough. This is better.” I caught Jack’s tight expression right before he took a step forward. Before I knew it, my hand was clutching his arm. I gave him a desperate look. “Jack, we forgot!”

His eyebrows drew together. “We forgot what?

“We don’t have a story. I was going to ask you, but your cologne confused me and then I dozed off.”

“My cologne did what?”

“Forget about the cologne!”

He sighed. “What story are you talking about?”

For someone who was about to lie to a bunch of his work friends, he looked oddly relaxed, which only made me more nervous and slightly angry. “A story about how we met! How you asked me to marry you!” I burst out and then lowered my voice. “They will ask something, if not those questions, something about us—you know they will. Everyone asks those questions.”

He shrugged, and this time it was me who looked confused. “We’ll come up with something if they do. Just act natural,” he said. “Are you nervous about this?”

Just act natural?

I gave him an exasperated look. “Of course I’m nervous about this. How can you not be? They’re your work friends. And what do you mean act natural?”

“They’re not my friends, Rose. We’re partners. And act natural means act natural. What else is it supposed to mean?”

He was driving me into madness with his cold demeanor. “What difference does that make? You’re partners, so you must at least be friendly, and if we’re acting natural, does that mean you’re gonna frown and be silent the entire evening? What am I supposed to do then?”

“I don’t frown.” He frowned as he said it.

Surprise, surprise.

I tilted my head. “Really? You’re gonna go with that? Why don’t we walk a few steps so you can stare into the nice, shiny glass windows and see for yourself.”

He sighed. “I’ll keep my frowning to a minimum, if it’ll please you. It’ll be fine. Come on. They’re not going to ask questions. Stop worrying. Remember, I told you, a potential client is joining us, too. They’ll be too busy with him.”

“So this is a schmoozing dinner. All the attention will be on him.”

“Schmoozing…”

“What?” I asked. “What?!”

He shook his head and sighed. “Your choice of words fascinate me. Are you sure you’re up for this?”

Maybe I was worrying over nothing. Either way, I was going to go into that restaurant and try to look like a happily married couple with a man who never smiled. And eat. I’d also eat. If my mouth was full or I was fixated on my dinner, they couldn’t ask questions. It wouldn’t be too hard to achieve either because I could already hear my stomach growling. Taking in a deep breath and letting it out, I thought I might as well get it over with as soon as possible. Only the first one was going to be this painful. After this one was over, I’d be a pro.

“Okay. Okay, you know them. I trust you.” I smoothed down my subtle waves and my bangs as Jack followed the movement of my hands.

When I met his eyes, he turned and walked away, leaving me behind. I looked up at the skies.

God, please help me.

I rushed to catch up until we were side by side. When someone opened the door for us to step in, Jack gestured for me to walk in ahead of him. I was trying my hardest to look like I fit in with the crowd, so I didn’t notice when Jack stopped in the entryway just before the hostess. Backtracking, I stood next to him again and tried not to fidget.

After he let the girl know about our party, someone helped me take off my jacket, and I started on the smoothing down process all over again.

“Rose?”

I looked up and got caught in Jack’s deep blue gaze.

“What?” I asked, leaning toward him.

“I…” His eyes moved all over me. All over. He’d already seen my tired face, yet he lingered the longest there. My lips, my eyes. My gaze caught in his and we stood still.

Stop looking, Rose. Stop staring.

Blinking, I broke the weird connection and felt my face heat up.

I cleared my throat. “Yes?”

He took a step closer. Standing too close for my comfort.

“You look beautiful,” he said out of nowhere, softly, but loud enough that even though there was laughter and soft music spilling out from the dining area, there was no way I could’ve misheard that compliment. I ran my hand up and down my arm to get rid of the goose bumps his gaze and rough voice had caused. The way he’d just blurted it out, I wasn’t sure if he had been waiting for a good moment to say it where other people could hear him or if it was an actual compliment.

“I…Thank you,” I whispered.

There was this weird feeling in my chest, this unreasonable excitement. Before I could process the unexpected shift between us and come up with an answer, his gaze dropped low. I followed his eyes and my heart started to beat faster—a whole lot faster when I saw his raised hand between us.

Tilting my head back up, I met his gaze and slowly, uncertainly placed my hand in his open palm for the first time since the ceremony. His hand was warm as he gently closed his fingers around mine. And my heart…my heart was having some issues.

The number of times Jack Hawthorne smiled: zilch.


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