Irresistible Billionaires by Summer Brooks
After our close call in Clara's bedroom the other day, I couldn't stop thinking about her. Knowing that this was all fake just made me wish I'd gotten more of her when I'd had the opportunity. Maybe that was my only chance at having sex with her and I blew it. When I saw her, I kept picturing her guiding my hands to her breast or picturing her lips on mine.
I wanted another chance to please her, but this time I wanted all of her. When we went back to the office on Monday, I made a conscious effort to keep things professional, but we kept bumping into each other. When I'd gone to the break room to get some coffee, she was already there.
"Hi, Clara," I'd said, but she stayed intently focused on making herself a cup of coffee, avoiding eye contact.
She went to grab the sugar, but she knocked it over instead. I reached out to stop it from spilling everywhere, and our hands brushed. She blushed and pulled away. Some other employees in the break room shot us awkward smiles. I'd noticed more and more employees taking notice of mine and Clara’s brief interactions.
Clara turned to face me. "Hi, Zach. Sorry, did you want some coffee?" She moved to the side so I could get to the coffee machine. Then, she took her coffee and headed out of the break room, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
During lunch, I'd caught her on the way out of the office and approached her, calling out, "Hey, Clara. Want to grab lunch together?"
She shook her head and gave me a fake smile. "No, thanks. I'm just going across the street to grab a quick bite, but thanks for the offer." She leaned in to give me a peck on the cheek, but there was no warmth in the gesture. Several onlookers in the office smiled at us, and a few of them let out some awws when she'd kissed me.
I wonder why everyone in the office is acting so weird. And if we're this awkward now, what's it going to be like when I meet Clara’s parents?
"All right. I'll catch up with you later. Let me know when we're going to see your parents. I can't wait to meet them finally," I said. I smiled, but she didn't return the gesture.
"All right, I will," she said and then walked out of the office building to go get her lunch.
After work that night, I sent her a text message. "Hey. What time were you thinking of meeting your parents?"
"I was thinking about doing lunch this weekend. Maybe on Saturday?"
"Sure. That sounds great. Looking forward to seeing you. 12 "
I was being weird. Smiley face? I never texted smiley faces.
"See you Saturday. Just meet me at my apartment. It'd be weird if we didn't drive there together."
The week passed by in a blur, and soon it was Saturday. I got dressed in the mirror, making sure to put on something nice but not too formal. I eventually settled on a silky, blue button-down and one of my nicer pairs of jeans. It was her parents and not a board meeting, after all. I ran a comb through my brown hair and threw some gel in it to keep it in place.
As I went out to my car, I sent Clara a text. "I'm heading over now. Be there in about twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes? That's not enough time."
"We’re just seeing your parents, not a celebrity. Just do the basics."
"Fine. I'll try to be ready when you get here but no promises."
As I got into my car and drove toward her house, I wondered how she would look. Would she go all out or just wear something more casual? When I pulled up to her apartment and parked my car, I sent her a quick message that just read "here" and walked up to her apartment door.
When I knocked on the door, I heard a crash, and a muttered, "Shit" before she rushed over and opened the door. She was wearing chunky black heels and a sleek black dress. She gave me a once over and then raised an eyebrow, "I thought you were going to dress up?"
I shrugged. "I didn't want to be overdressed, but now that I see you, I'm wondering if I guessed wrong."
Clara sighed. "It's fine. Sit down while I change the outfit up a little so I don’t look too formal."
Clara took off the heels and switched into some black flats instead and took off a few pieces of jewelry. Her hair had been half up, and I watched as she took out the bobby pins so that auburn curls spilled over her shoulders. I took in a sharp breath.
She looks amazing with her hair like that. Why doesn't she wear it down more often?
When I looked at her face and noticed something was missing. "Where are your glasses?" I was so accustomed to seeing them that it took me by surprise. It was strange seeing her without them, but she looked good.
Clara twirled a curl around her finger. "I decided to wear contacts today. Does it look weird or something?"
A smile spread across my face. "No. I just thought you look even more beautiful today."
She blushed, but then her eyes narrowed at me in suspicion. "Good one. You almost had me convinced. Make sure you're that convincing when you meet my parents today. Let's get going. My parents are expecting to see us in about thirty minutes."
"How long does it take to get there?"
"About twenty-five minutes." She grabbed her black clutch and gestured for me to move along. Once we'd made it out of the house, she closed the door and locked it behind her. "Let's hurry. My mother will throw a fit if we're late. She doesn't like it when things don't go according to plan."
"Must be an inherited trait," I joked.
She grabbed my hand and tugged me to the parking lot without another word.
When we got to the car, she led me there by the arm. I turned my face away, so she couldn't see the blush rising to my cheeks at having her that close.
What is she doing to me?
We had to drive to the edge of the city to get to her parents’ house. They had a nice parking garage and a large garden in the front yard. A dog raced up to the car's door when she put the car in park. It was a beautiful golden lab with white fur around its ears. That's some impressive energy for an old dog.
Clara flung open the door and went over to the dog. She bent down and scratched the dog on its head, and he rolled over to his belly to get tummy rubs. "Sparky, I missed you. What're you doing out of the house? Did Mom let you out?" she cooed as she stroked his fur.
I crawled over and got out on her side of the car, so I wouldn't accidentally clip the dog with the door. I walked over to her. "I take it, he's your dog. What made you call him Sparky?"
She looked up from Sparky and pursed her lips. "He had a lot of energy, and his fur is yellow. It was between that and the energizer bunny." Clara gave me a genuine smile, and my heart leaped into my throat. Meeting her parents made this feel real. I hadn't ever met the parents of any of my exes or previous flings.
My palms felt sweaty, and I rubbed them off on my jeans. "Can I pet him?" I asked.
"Of course. As you can probably tell, he's friendly."
I reached down and scratched him behind the ears, and a woman's voice called out to us.
"Did Sparky sneak out of the house again?"
Clara nodded. "Yes, he did, but thankfully he's safe now."
I looked up to see a woman who looked just like an older version of Clara. Her brown hair was streaked with gray and tied up into a messy bun. She was wearing a floral-pattern top and some loose-fitting jeans. She looked me up and down and then elbowed Clara. "You didn't tell me he was a looker. How'd you find him?"
"Work." We both answered at the same time.
Clara's mother held out her hand, and I took it. "Hi, it's nice to meet you…"
I trailed off, but Clara finished the sentence for me. "Trisha. Mom, this is my soon-to-be husband. Zach, this is my mother, Trisha."
I took her hand and shook it. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Trisha."
"Don't be silly. You can call me Mom, and a hug won't kill you." She held out her arms, and I wrapped her in a brief hug.
I didn't quite feel comfortable calling her Mom just yet, especially since I knew the marriage wasn't real. She wouldn't get a chance to be any sort of pseudo-mother for me. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Trisha."
She looked from Clara and then back to me. "He’s stubborn, just like you. I see now why you two get along. Let's go inside. Your father's waiting for us."
Trisha led us into the house, and Sparky padded along behind us, nearly knocking me over as he rushed past me to get back into the air conditioning. I couldn't blame him, we'd only been outside for a minute or two, and I was already starting to sweat.
The house opened up into a hallway, and just past the hallway was a dining room table where a frail-looking man sat. He had a bald head, and an IV drip sat next to him at the table. I noticed that Clara’s smile dimmed a little when she saw him. His eyes had dark circles underneath, but he seemed in good spirits, and his smile brightened when he saw me and the ring on Clara's finger.
"I might get to see you get married before I croak. I was starting to worry about you."
"Do you and Mom only think about my love life?"
Her parents looked at each other and then back at me. Trisha spoke up again, "It's not our fault that up until now, it was non-existent. We're just excited for you, that's all."
Clara sighed. "Sure, you are. And you're hoping that it means you'll get your dream of being a grandmother sooner. Am I right?"
Trisha feigned a look of innocence. "I mean, maybe. You have to admit you two would make cute babies."
Clara blushed, and I was sure I was bright red as well—my face felt hot. Clara spoke up for us both. "Mother, can you not talk about babies? The marriage hasn't even happened yet. What if neither of us wants kids? Have you considered that?"
Trisha smiled. "You say that now, but you'll change your mind later. Anyway, I got us Clara's favorite to celebrate, chocolate cake. I ordered a pizza for lunch. I hope you like pepperoni. Let me go ahead and bring you some food."
When her mother left the room, I reached out to grab Clara’s hand, and she let me take it, threading her fingers with mine. Clara threw me a grateful look as we headed to the table together and sat down with her father. This couldn't be easy on her.
When she came back in, we were all sitting down at the table together. "I have cake. You can help yourself to the pizza too. It’s in the kitchen," she said while hauling a large chocolate cake into the dining room and plopping it down onto the table. After she placed the cake down, she searched around. "Oh, right, I forgot the knife. Be right back." She sauntered back into the kitchen.
Clara's father took that as an opportunity to ask me questions. "So, what do you do for a living? What made you two decide to get married?"
I looked at Clara, and she nodded. "Well, we'd met in high school, and she'd had a huge crush on me, but when we met again recently, I recognized her. We went on a couple of dates, and I knew that I wanted to spend my life with her."
She squeezed my hand a little too tightly under the table, perhaps as a warning.
"Anyway, shortly after that, I proposed to her during a nice dinner out together, and the rest is history." I smiled at her, and she gave me a smile back. This time I couldn't tell if it was real or fake.
She's getting better at this charade, I thought as Trisha came back in with the knife to cut the chocolate cake.
"Do you want the first slice, Clara?"
Clara nodded. "Of course, but you know I prefer to cut my own cake." Clara took the knife from Trisha.
Trisha sighed and shook her head. "Is she like this with you too? I thought she'd grow out of her need to control everything, but some things never change. Did she tell you about how when she was younger, she refused to let me pack her lunch because I didn't do it right?"
Clara cringed and put up a hand in warning. "Mom. Please stop. You're embarrassing me."
Trisha smiled, and her eyes crinkled at the corners. "Well, he needs to know these things. He is marrying you, after all."
Clara huffed and made her slice of cake larger.
"Ah, you're cutting an extra-large piece for me. How kind of you," I joked.
She narrowed her eyes at me. "This slice is for me because I have to get triple-teamed today."
I laughed as she continued cutting her slice.
We all got some pizza and ate while we chatted about the wedding. Thankfully, her parents weren't suspicious of my motives, or if they were, they didn’t show it. They didn't even seem to know that I was the son of the owner of OBEL. They asked what my family and I did for a living. Do her parents live under a rock?
I smiled and looked over at Clara. "I'm actually the son of Robert Stone, the owner of OBEL. I work for OBEL with Clara."
Trisha's eyes widened when I told her about my family’s business. "You're that Zach?" She shook Clara's shoulder. "You didn't mention this over the phone.”
Clara shrugged. "I thought you'd know when you saw him, Mom."
Trisha shook her head. "Well. That's wonderful. Hopefully, Clara isn't giving you too much trouble at work." She winked at me.
I looked over at Clara, but she just blushed. "No, she's no trouble at work…just outside of work." I winked at her, and she looked like she wanted to hide away from all of us.
We continued eating and chatted about life for a little longer. By the time we left, I'd started to feel like family. Even Sparky had fallen asleep leaning against my leg. Some small part of me wanted it all to be real even as the rest of me screamed no. Getting into an actual relationship would be too messy. I didn't want to end up betrayed like my father.
After the meeting, we parted ways. We didn't hold hands or chat during the car ride back. I could feel the gap widening between us when I dropped her off at home. She didn't laugh or smile.
Had seeing her parents changed this arrangement for her?
She had insisted that I not walk her to her apartment door, and I didn't hear from her again until Monday.
When I arrived at work Monday morning, I was still getting strange smiles and stares anytime I got close to Clara. I was starting to think the people in the building were up to something. My suspicions were confirmed when my father popped into my office with a huge smile on his face.
"Hi, Zach. We have a meeting in a few minutes. In the same conference room where we had our last marketing meeting. Are you ready to leave now?"
I cocked my head to one side. "I don't remember getting a notification about any meetings."
My dad fiddled with his tie. It was a nervous habit of his. "Well, it was a last-minute meeting. Follow me. The presenter is already in the room, waiting."
I surveyed my desk to make sure no papers were out of place and that the contract with Clara was still safely tucked away. I had meant to take it home, but I kept getting distracted. I really didn't want that to be flashed in my father's face. "All right. Let's go now, then."
"Great." My father broke into a wide grin and led me through the hallway toward the conference room.
When we got closer, I noticed what looked like colorful streamers peeking out from the half-open door. This explains a lot. I have a feeling Clara won't be thrilled about this. I smiled at the thought of her wanting to change everything about the celebration so it would be just right. It was probably the same reason she enjoyed planning the wedding so much. She was able to make everything just the way she wanted…aside from the emotions of the groom, that is.
Although, she was winning over my affections in her own way. Not that I'd ever admit it to her face. That would just open a can of worms I wasn't willing to deal with just yet. Maybe once I get my father to a place where he'd feel comfortable stepping down from OBEL.
I shook my head. If I were honest with myself, that wasn't the actual reason I was afraid to get too close. I didn't want a repeat of my mother. As kind as Clara seemed, there were too many things that could go wrong in a genuine relationship. This was a safer option that got us both what we wanted.
When I stepped into the office, the lights were off. My father ushered me into the room, and Clara was led in, not that far behind me.
She was fighting the person leading her every inch of the way. "We still have too much work t—"
Her voice was cut off when the lights flipped on, and everyone jumped out from their hiding spots shouting, "Surprise."
Clara put a hand over her mouth and grabbed my arm. I leaned into her ear and whispered, "Just play along. It'll be fun."
"Fun for you," she muttered.
One of the male coworkers approached. I couldn't remember his name, but I thought it was Jet or maybe Jake. "When your dad told us about the engagement, we all chipped in to help you celebrate."
I smiled, "Thanks. We appreciate it. Right, Clara?"
Clara gave a weak, "Uh-huh," but her tune changed when she saw the chocolate cake with plump strawberries on the top. Clara pointed at the cake and looked over at the male co-worker. "Hey, Jake. Can I grab myself a slice?"
Jake nodded and led her over to the chocolate cake. She cut herself a sizable piece and walked back over to me.
"You planning on sharing some?" I joked.
"Nope, all mine. Paws off, or you'll get the business end of this fork."
I raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like a challenge."
I snatched the fork from her hand and nabbed a piece of cake. Her eyes widened as I plopped it into my mouth.
She smacked my other hand. "You're unbelievable."
"Mmm. What's unbelievable is this cake. Here. You can have your fork back."
She rolled her eyes at me. "No, thanks. It has your germs now." Clara plucked the fork from my hand and tossed it into the garbage.
Another co-worker I'd never met approached me. "When are you two planning on tying the knot?"
I shrugged. "In a couple of months or so. We still have to pick out the decorations and send out invitations."
Clara left my side after the cake stunt to socialize with some of the other co-workers. Something about her looked different, like she was more confident.
My thoughts were torn from Clara when my brother approached me and tapped me on the shoulder. He looked around before he spoke. "Can I talk to you…alone?"
"Sure, but what’s it about?"
He continued scanning the crowd. "I'll tell you once I can make sure no one is listening."
I raised an eyebrow at him. "All right. Be mysterious." I smiled, but Logan didn't return the smile.
He grabbed me by the arm and tugged me out of the conference room. Logan kept looking around and pulled me farther and farther away from the party. Once we were in my office, he closed the door shut behind us and locked the door. "What gives? You kill somebody or something?"
Logan laughed. "Of course not. I just didn't want dad to hear what we're about to talk about. She told me not to tell him about any of this."
My blood ran cold at the use of the word "she." Did he mean our mother?
As if reading my mind, he said. “I'm talking about our mother. She reached out and said she wanted to be a part of all of this. I guess she found out about the wedding ceremony.”
I smacked my hand on the desk. “She has some nerves of steel. After abandoning us for all these years, now she's decided to get in touch?”
Logan tried to reach for my shoulder, but I shrugged him off. "Any idea why she reached out now of all times?"
Logan shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is she specifically told me not to tell Dad about any of this."
I sat on the desk and rubbed my temples. "Of course, she did. Let's just pretend she never reached out. It'd be a waste of time talking to a cheater like her, anyway."
Logan nodded. "All right. If that's your decision, I'll let her know. I know you don't want to talk to her."
I put a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," he said, and we left the office to head back to the party.