Irresistible Billionaires by Summer Brooks
After Clara had left, I finished up at work. I ended up hiding away in the office and drafting a contract for most of the workday.
Once I got home, I rang up a lawyer I had met back in college so he could give the contract a once over. The phone rang a few times before he picked up. "Hey, Mark. Is there any way I could hire you for an emergency contract draw up? I know it's last minute, but I need it done for tomorrow."
He sighed. "Sure, Zach, anything for you.”
We spent the entire night drafting the agreement. It had to be a sweet enough deal that she would agree, but it needed to be airtight. I couldn't risk my father finding out, or he'd never step down from the company.
I decided on money, free rent, and a promotion. She seemed like the serious type who mostly cared about her job, so I hoped that would be enough. Then, I added in a non-disclosure agreement so she wouldn't blab to her friends and family about the arrangement.
I sighed as I put the finishing touches on the document. I turned to Mark. "Thank you for everything."
He responded with a head nod. "Don't mention it. Let me know how this ends up working out for you. It sounds like an interesting situation."
I laughed. "Well, I'll be calling you if anything goes wrong, so you'll be the first to know if it turns sour."
He grinned. "I guess you have a point."
He got up to leave, and I led him out of the house through a few back doors and unused hallways.
Once he'd left, I sent Clara a text. "I've got the contract ready. We'll meet tomorrow to sign it. Come in a little early for work tomorrow. Let’s say around seven."
She sent back "K" and nothing else.
I put the contract into my briefcase for work and then got ready for bed.
Well, tomorrow will definitely be interesting.
I woke up the next morning to the blaring of the alarm. Without looking, I reached over to hit the snooze button. My eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep.
It's time for work already? It feels like I just went to bed.
I turned over and pulled the cover over my face.
I'll just give myself five more minutes, and then I'll get up.
When my alarm went off again, I groaned and pushed off the covers.
The thought of Clara's witty banter and gorgeous figure urged me on. "Get up to go meet your fake girlfriend," I mumbled to myself.
Your hot and bossy fake girlfriend.
Shaking my head, I glanced back and forth, nervous that someone had heard me, and flabbergasted that I was already peeling the clothes off my fake girlfriend before even signing the paperwork. There was no way I could sleep with Clara; it would only complicate things. I remembered her from high school. She was wiry until high school when she had put on the curves. My friends were mean to her, and though I didn't speak up, I felt bad for her. Personally, I thought her curves were sexier than hell.
I peered over at the clock—6:05 a.m. I needed to get going, or breakfast wouldn't be an option anymore.
I quickly got dressed and ran a comb through my hair. I used a small bit of gel to tame the more rebellious pieces that stuck up at odd angles. Then, I raced downstairs with my briefcase and grabbed a piece of fruit from the kitchen for breakfast. My stomach rumbled in protest, but I needed to get there early so I could be ready to meet with Clara. I wanted to talk to her before everyone else got into the office.
After surveying myself to make sure I had my watch, briefcase, food, and everything else I needed, I got into my car and left for work. It was going to be a very long day.
The traffic on the way over was lighter than usual, so it only took me forty minutes instead of my usual hour. Once I got there, I parked and walked around to the front of the building. Clara was already outside. Her was face set in a frown. When I approached her, she snapped.
"I thought you said we'd meet at seven? I got up early and rushed through breakfast to get here on time. "
I raised an eyebrow at her and looked down at my watch. It was 7:05. I sighed and shrugged. "I missed breakfast too. Sorry. I woke up a little late this morning. I was busy getting today's contract ready."
My stomach grumbled, and her annoyance turned to sympathy. "Sorry. I haven't eaten yet either. I'm still feeling weary of this entire thing. I didn't mean to snap at you."
The corner of my mouth tugged up in a smile. "Am I hearing things, or did you just apologize to me?"
She threw me an icy glare. "Don't get used to it. Unlike you, I accept responsibility for my mistakes and apologize for them. A novel concept I know."
Ouch. "Well played. Anyway, we should probably go inside before other people get here."
I grabbed the key and unlocked the front door. It swung open, and I tried to hold the door for Clara, but she walked through the other side instead.
I fake coughed, "Control freak."
She rolled her eyes. "If knowing what I want makes me a control freak, then sure we'll go with that. Now let's go find somewhere quiet so we can talk about our little deal."
I led Clara into the office my father had set up for me, and I locked the door behind us. After laying the suitcase down on the table, I pulled out the paperwork and held it out to her. "You can take a look at it now, but I thought we could hammer out the details over lunch? I'm thinking you probably didn't have much time to pack anything today. Am I right?"
Her gaze settled onto the contract, skimming the pages. I stared at her full lips. She bit them and pressed them together when she was stressed. It was mesmerizing. It took her about ten more minutes of painful silence to look through the rest of the verbiage.
Her glasses slid down to the bridge of her nose while she read. I could tell when she got to the part about the non-disclosure agreement because her nose scrunched up, and she looked up at me. "Am I really not allowed to tell anyone? Not even my best friends?"
I shook my head. "It's too risky for them to know, but I'll pay for you to go to a therapist if it helps you deal with this."
She chewed on her lower lip and didn't speak for a couple of long moments. "Will the therapist have to sign an NDA too?"
I sighed. "Yes. We can't risk him or her exposing this secret either. Otherwise, my father will never trust me again."
Clara mulled this over for a moment before she spoke again. "I like the guaranteed promotion, benefits, and monetary compensation. I also like that you threw in the rental of my choice for a year after the divorce."
"I'm sensing a but here."
She thumbed through the contract again. "But… I'm not sure how I feel about keeping secrets from my friends. I really don't like not being able to tell anyone about this. I tell Sarah and Bella everything. I just don't know if I can do it."
I leaned my elbows on the desk. "How about you sign the contract itself now? We can discuss the NDA more over lunch. How does that sound?"
Her lips curved up in a smile. "It depends. Are you paying for lunch?"
I sighed. "Sure. We'll meet again at one o'clock."
At that, she handed back the contract, and I put it into my briefcase. After she left my office, the rest of the staff shuffled in for the start of their day. A few minutes after that, I heard a knock on the door.
"Come in," I called out, glancing up to see my father. "Hi, Dad. What're you doing in the main office today?"
He gave me a stern look. "I saw Clara is already in the office today. Aren't you going to go oversee her training?"
I gave him a confused look. "I'm not her trainer, but we are going to have lunch together. Unlike some people, I know how to delegate. She’s working with one of the higher-ups in the marketing department."
He frowned at me. "You better be careful with that biting sarcasm. Otherwise, I just might decide to outlive you. Then I'll never have to give you the company."
"Sure, you will, Dad."
He gestured for me to follow him. "Anyway. I've come to get you because I'm going to show you the ropes today. I want you to shadow me until lunch."
I stood up straighter. "Thank you. I'll make sure not to let you down."
"Good," he said, and he strode out of my office, gesturing for me to follow.
It's strange how he seems so together at work but a mess at home.
Just as the thought crossed my mind, he stopped walking, and I nearly ran into him.
He turned to look back at me. "Where were we going again?"
His eyes were uncharacteristically wide and lacked their usual clarity.
I gave him a playful pat on the shoulder. "Don't tell me you're going senile on me already, old man. You were letting me shadow you, remember?"
My father shook his head. "Oh, yes. That's right. We have an important meeting today. We're going to be talking about marketing and sales strategies."
We weaved through the hallway until we got to one of our larger conference rooms.
Clara was already there with her trainer. The person training her was a short, muscular man with copper hair and muddy-brown eyes.
His expression was intense as he gave her directions. "Make sure you take notes during the meeting. They need to be organized and detailed so we can read through them later," he ordered.
Clara nodded. Any hint of humor was gone. She was in full-on work mode.
Some board members shuffled in, and the presenter started setting up. It looked like they were reviewing quarterly earnings versus marketing spending. I saw the trainer whisper something to Clara, and she wrinkled her nose in distaste. I wondered what he'd said when the meeting started.
The male presenter pulled up the first slide of his presentation and stood in front of the crowd. "Welcome, everyone. Today we will talk about the sales and marketing numbers from this quarter."
During the presentation, Clara busily took notes. My father would occasionally look over at me and have me jot something down, but otherwise, I didn’t get much direction. Clara looked so serious with her hair pulled back and her nose in a notepad. Something about that quiet and professional side of her made my heart race.
After the man finished presenting, Clara looked like she was about to say something, but her trainer stopped her. Clara leveled a glare at him and spoke up anyway. "If our return on investment is so low, how do we expect to keep the company afloat for the next quarter?"
My father's eyebrows raised expectantly. He looked directly at Clara's trainer.
The presenter turned to Clara. "We're planning on researching some more innovative products that will be easier to market."
Clara cocked her head to one side. "Well, before we try to create any new products, we should market the old ones more cost-effectively. If we aren't able to make those products profitable, then we should cut them from production."
Jaws hung open around the room, but I just cracked a smile.
It will be interesting having her around the office if she's already picking fights.
Her trainer cut her off and spoke up. "Sorry. She's still in training. Clara was only meant to be observing today."
Clara narrowed her eyes at her mentor but kept her mouth shut for the rest of the meeting.
"Does anyone have other questions?"
My father stood up. "Yes, I'd like to know how you’ll address the concerns that Clara brought up."
The presenter scratched his head. "Honestly, I hadn't thought of how we can change the marketing on those products. I was just thinking about scaling up our advertising on our newest lines to increase awareness and making a few new and more innovative products that we can heavily market."
My father nodded. "Well, thank you for the presentation. You can go sit down now." He turned to the rest of the room. "If no one else has questions or concerns, you're dismissed."
Everyone got up from their chairs and started leaving the room, including Clara, but my father held up a hand. "Except for you, Clara. I'd like to talk with you a little more and hear some of your marketing ideas."
Clara's mouth opened in an O, and she looked over at her trainer as if asking for permission. He nodded, and then it was just me, my father, and Clara in the conference room. "So, tell me a little more about your thoughts."
Clara looked down at her notebook. "Well, right now, our return on investment for our current marketing efforts is low. It looks like… out of the advertising we're using, the online ads are the least effective. We might need to consider changing the design to make them more appealing to our target market. In addition, since the customer base for OBEL craves innovation, we'd do best if we marketed the product as having something new, interesting, or innovative in its design."
My father nodded along in agreement. "Those are all excellent points. Why don't you work with your mentor today on coming up with a plan to implement some of these changes? Let him know you're both to report back to me at the end of the day with your progress on creating an alternative marketing plan."
Clara smiled, and it lit up her entire face. "Of course, I will get it done right away. Thank you." She reached out to take his hand, and he pulled her in for a hug instead.
"You'll make an excellent asset to this company and this family," he said.
Clara flushed and muttered a "Thank you" before leaving the conference room.
Then my father turned back to me. "I think I can see now why you like her. She's smart, stubborn, and outspoken. She reminds me a lot of someone I know. A certain son of mine."
I rolled my eyes at him. "You’re right. She's a lot like Logan," I joked, and he laughed. I glanced down at my watch. The meeting had taken longer than expected. We had about an hour before lunch. "Is there anything else you want me to do before lunch today?"
He thought about it for a moment. "You can get started sorting through resumes. HR has filtered through most of them, but they bring the top candidates to me to determine who to call in. We still have a few more positions to fill, so I'll swing by and leave the resumes and paperwork in your office."
"Okay. I'll head back there now then."
I got through five candidates before lunchtime. I grabbed my phone from my pocket and sent Clara a message. "Don't forget to meet me at the entrance so we can get lunch. I'm heading to the front door now. Be there in five?"
I saw that she'd read the message, but she didn't respond right away. Maybe she was in the middle of something. I'd just reached the front door when I got a response from her.
"Okay. I'll be right there. Just finishing something up."
I let out a sigh of relief.
At least she got the text.
I had never been particularly good at waiting, but it seemed my own careless word vomit to my father had put me in a bit of a position. There was a certain amount of bending I would have to do when it came to Clara. Contract or not, I knew she held the cards.
Finally, I saw her walking over to the entrance. Her forehead creased in thought like she was still focused on work. When she reached the door, I smiled and put my arm around her shoulder.
The smile she gave me back was forced, and her voice turned into a squeaked reply of, "Hi, dear. How was your day so far?"
I resisted the urge to laugh.
She's right. She really is an awful actress.
I led her across the street by the hand. "So, did you decide where you wanted to go for lunch?"
Clara smirked. "Would you be completely against it if I picked the French restaurant near the station, Bouche?"
I raised an eyebrow at her. That place was expensive and a bit of a hipster magnet, but they had excellent food. Hopefully, we could get a table without a reservation. They weren't usually as packed for lunch. "I have a feeling you're going to milk this for everything you can get, aren’t you?"
Clara smiled. "Yup. Serves you right for roping me into this without telling me anything beforehand."
I sighed and held up my hands in defeat. "All right. All right. You win. We'll go there, but there's no guarantee we'll get a table."
Now it was her turn to shoot me an incredulous look. "You do realize that because of who you are, they'll probably find you a table, regardless. They might build one in your honor if they’re full."
Clara made an excellent point.
"All right, let's get going then. We have just a little over an hour before I have to be back."
She let me lead her to the restaurant. The front door was a gorgeous crimson, and the picture windows on the second floor were perpetually flung open, giving the restaurant an airy feel like an old-school bistro.
When we pushed inside and the hostess caught sight of me, her eyes widened. "Zach Stone. To what do we owe this pleasure?"
I chuckled. "My girlfriend and I would like to have lunch. Do you have a table available for two?"
The woman narrowed her eyes at Clara like she didn't believe we were together, but when she looked back at me, she smiled. "Of course. I'll get you a table. Right this way."
We followed behind her, and Clara leaned into my shoulder to whisper into my ear. "Is it just me, or did she give me a death glare a few seconds ago?"
I grinned. "It's not just you. I think she's jealous."
She pulled me a little closer as we walked toward the table, and her chest brushed my arm.
It's a shame this is only for show. Maybe we’ll get to have some fun in this charade. I wonder if she’s one of those types who’s a freak under that serious exterior of hers.
The inside seating was dimly lit even in the day, giving it a romantic atmosphere that contrasted with Clara's appearance in her gray business suit and her perpetual chestnut ponytail that oozed seriousness. As we walked up the stairs, we passed by some gorgeous golden details on the wall.
Clara relaxed a little as we approached our table. She pulled away from my arm when we took our seats. I sat down in the wooden chair across from her and took in the brilliant gold-leafed mermaids and plants on the wall.
We were facing the window that took up most of the wall. It gave me a gorgeous view of the city.
The hostess gestured to the table and said, "Someone will be by to take your order in just a few moments," before walking away.
Once she was gone, I pulled out the contract and non-disclosure agreement and placed them on the table between us. "Take a look at the contract again and ask me any questions you have."
She pushed the contract away and looked me in the eye. "I'm going to need to know more about you if we want this to be convincing."
I laced my fingers together. She was right. I needed to tell her about my parents. "Well, one thing you should know is that my mother and father aren't together. My mother cheated on him, so they got divorced. I have a younger brother, Logan, who's twenty-nine, and we're close. He's a bit flirtatious and spoiled, so don't encourage him."
It didn't look like Clara was listening, so I waved my hand in front of her face. "Earth to Clara. Did you get any of that?"
She gave me a weak smile. "Sorry, I got distracted. "
I rubbed my temple with my hand. "You need to know this if you're going to pretend to be my girlfriend, so please pay attention."
When I looked up, Clara was sitting up straight. Her chin tilted upward in defiance. "So. I know you claim that I like you, which is bullshit, but do you like me?"
I rolled my eyes. "You really have no focus, do you?"
Her cheeks reddened. "Well, if you don't like me, then why would you kiss me?"
I leaned forward and lowered my voice to a whisper. "I kiss a lot of women. That doesn't mean I like all of them. I've also had sex with a lot of women I don't like. It meant nothing, so just let it go."
Clara bit her lip. She stayed silent for a few breaths, and the silence stretched between us. When she spoke again, she was shaking. "Well, some of us aren't as heartless as you. Personally, I prefer to be with people I like, and you aren't exactly what I was hoping to get married to fake or not. You should've asked me before dragging me into your mess."
I inwardly cringed. She had a point, but it wasn't like I wanted to be like this. Every time I tried to open up to someone, it just didn't go well. They either cheated or were only in it for the money. Clara moved to get up, but I grabbed onto her shoulder.
"Wait. You still need to sign the non-disclosure agreement, and besides, I have something for our little charade that I think you'll like."
Clara narrowed her eyes at me and crossed her arms over her chest.
I held the contract out to her. "Sign it first. I want to make this official before I hand over the surprise ."
She sighed but took the contract from me. She skimmed the paperwork once more. Her glasses slid down her nose, and she pushed them up. As she read, she made a few "mmm" sounds and then scribbled her signature at the bottom. "There it's signed. This surprise ought to be good." She leveled an expectant gaze at me.
I ignored her rude comment and pulled out the engagement ring that had been sitting in my pants pocket. I held out the velvet box, but I didn't put it on the table just yet. Her surprise was her ring for the fake engagement. I hadn’t known what she’d liked, so I had to guess.
The ring had a large white diamond at its center set in a platinum band, and blue topaz encircled the stone in the middle of the ring. I'd hoped I'd gotten her size right. I had to guess based on what her hands looked like.
My lips tugged up in a smile. "Close your eyes and hold out your hand for me."
Clara looked flustered. "Are you going to tell me why?"
I shook my head. "No. You'll just have to trust me and find out."
Clara muttered, "I trust you about as far as I can throw you." But she closed her eyes and held out her hand, anyway.
I slid the ring onto her finger. "Okay. You can look now."
Her eyes widened to saucers as she took in the ring. Clara let out a gasp. But then the start of tears welled up in her eyes.
I chimed in with, "Clara, will you fake marry me?"
Her lower lip quivered. She shrank in on herself like she was trying to make herself smaller. Clara gripped the table with a vice grip as she stood up. She picked up the contract and threw the papers at me. "You jerk. Why would you go through all this trouble for something that's not even real? Are you a sadistic or something?" She got up from her chair. "Maybe we should do this another time," Clara said before storming off.
What in the world just happened?