Authors: Melanie Marchande
I Married a Billionaire: The Prodigal Son
By Melanie Marchande
Copyright © Melanie Marchande
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
“Do you think it’s salvageable?”
I looked up at him.
“Okay,” he said. “All right. Never mind.”
“I didn’t say anything.” I put the manuscript down on the kitchen island.
One corner of Daniel Thorne’s mouth twisted up into a wry smile. “You didn’t have to.”
It had been almost six months since someone managed to plant the idea of a biography in my husband’s head. He’d been taking meetings with writers ever since, and it had been a more difficult process than he’d anticipated. Eventually he started bringing sample manuscripts home to me, and I had to admit, the pickings were pretty slim.
“I could deal with the, uh, workmanlike prose,” I said, standing up. “I mean, it’s nonfiction. But the grammar? And the sentence structure? It’s so awkward.”
“I’m awkward,” said Daniel, with his head halfway into the cupboard. “Maybe this is the one. Did you eat all the Nutella?”
I sighed. “Yes, Danny. Yes. The answer is always yes.” I walked over to him, resting my hand on the small of his back until he turned to look at me. “Don’t say things like that.”
“I wouldn’t have to, if you’d just buy more when you finish it.”
I made a face at him. “You know what I’m referring to, asshole.”
He wound his arm around my neck, leaning down and planting a kiss on my forehead.
“I’ve got a few more meetings next week,” he said. “Odds are, one of them will work out. I’m getting tired of telling the same stories over and over.”
“Odds are?” I repeated, following him out into the living room. “Have you been following the odds so far? They’re not in your favor.”
“I never was very good at statistics.”
Shaking my head, I went back to sorting through the mail.
After the first tumultuous few years of our relationship, it was amazing how comfortably we’d settled in. I found myself unable to imagine life without him. A dangerous place to be, for sure, but I was strangely content with it.
It probably wouldn’t have been so strange if I’d been one of those girls who actively sought Mr. Right, or even Mr. Right Now. But when I’d started working for Daniel at the main office of his company, Plum Technologies, I had already pretty much given up on either of those possibilities. There simply wasn’t someone out there for me. But no, that wasn’t it, exactly. It was more that I just didn’t want to be that close to someone. The whole idea was so unappealing to me; living with someone, being accountable to them at all times, sharing every waking moment. It sounded like a nightmare - and in practice, it usually was.
But then, there was Thorne.
Daniel was someone who’d been burned before, maybe even more so than I ever was. That, I suppose, made him an ideal candidate. But neither one of us approached this thing with any intentions of becoming what it was now. He simply needed someone to marry so he could stay in the country, and I was broke. If I agreed to marry him, we could both get something we desperately needed.
Well, that turned out to be true. But it wasn’t what either one of us expected.
I suppose we were both so lonely, so starved for affection, even if we didn’t want to admit it, that just pretending to be in love triggered that endorphin rush. We were hooked on each other from day one. But it took many more days for us to admit it.
After a few scares with the INS and one of Daniel’s crazy ex-girlfriends, we finally admitted to each other that maybe it was time to pursue this…thing, whatever it was. Naturally, after we’d finally settled into a our
relationship, some old enemies from Daniel’s past tried to frame him for insider trading. Once the nail-biting stress and chaos were over with, I suppose we’d reached a new level of…well…I’m not sure, exactly. But I was almost afraid of how much I liked it.
Safety. Security. Not just financial, but emotional. I understood now why so many people seemed to wander the world aimlessly looking for the half to make them whole, even if it was never an ambition I’d shared. Being Daniel’s wife was deeply comforting, and deeply satisfying, in ways I couldn’t possibly have anticipated.
I had just finished shoving all the junk mail into the recycling when he brushed past me again, heading for the fridge. “Don’t forget about that dinner tonight.”
Ugh. I almost
forgotten. This one was for charity, although most of them seemed to be, and I could hardly keep them straight. To make things worse, Emily, the boutique owner who’d basically become my personal stylist since I started “seeing” Daniel, was on vacation. I didn’t trust my own taste, and after a few snarky blog posts I’d learned that I couldn’t wear the same dress twice to any event where there would be media coverage.
I didn’t even know where to start. I’d been putting off the dress shopping for far too long already, and now I only had a few hours left.
The thought of asking Daniel to come for a second opinion occurred to me, but in the end, I decided against it. I gathered up my purse and jacket and headed out into the crisp autumn air, alone.
For some reason, I couldn’t deal with the idea of going into an unfamiliar boutique and being eyeballed by some hipster clerk, so I went to a department store instead. Which, of course, quickly proved to be a mistake.
There was absolutely nothing that appealed to me, style-wise, but I was going to have to make the best of it. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the colors either. Did all the designers get together this year and say, “let’s make everyone dress like they’re appliances in a 1970s kitchen?”
After flipping through rack after rack of sartorial disasters, I was beginning to feel intensely discouraged. I never should have put off my shopping until the last minute, but these events had become so routine to me - so boring, even - that I just ended up procrastinating. I supposed this was my punishment. A purgatory of browns, oranges, and avocado-greens.
Then, suddenly, something caught my eye.
Excitedly, I grabbed the hanger and wrestled it out from the back of the pile. It was something in a deep red, something that actually looked like a color that a human being would want to put on their body. I finally pulled it free, and held it up under the light.
My heart started to sink. The color was as lovely as I’d hoped, but the style…well, it was admittedly difficult to tell while it was slouching over a hanger, but it just didn’t seem right at all. The fabric was sort of thin and stretchy, the shoulders somehow overly square, and the two sides sort of met and folded over each other in a deep V at the neckline. It was very early eighties, actually, now that I looked at it more closely.
Did I accidentally time-travel this morning?
Oh, well, there was nothing for it. I absolutely was not going to wrap myself in something that matched my dad’s used VW Beetle that he had when I was a baby, so I had no choice but to try on this monstrosity of a red dress. Maybe it would be better than I expected.
In the fitting room, I didn’t dare even turn towards the mirror until I’d finished pulling it on. And even then, I had the insane urge to cover my eyes and just peek between my fingers.
I gritted my teeth.
The v-neck was so low that it almost showed part of my stomach, and the strange fold made it look like my breasts were different sizes. It was very clingy around the middle. The length was strange, too, just below the knee, as if it had been designed for someone much shorter than I was. Or much taller.
Overall, though, it wasn’t a complete disaster. And it was passable for just one night. Anyway, it had to be better than committing the cardinal sin of
re-wearing a dress
As I reluctantly paid for my purchase, I fought off the uneasy feeling that I was becoming exactly what I didn’t want to be. I was letting my decisions be influenced by strangers. Strangers whose entire job was to watch and criticize my every move. I was playing right into their hand, even if I was rolling my eyes while I did it.
But what choice did I have, really? I was going to be labeled as something, one way or the other. If I followed their ridiculous “rules,” I was shallow. If I accidentally put a toe out of line, I was laughable. And if I just decided to forget the whole thing and live my life like a normal person, I was the quirky, crazy, anti-establishment oddity that would have everyone shaking their heads - and smiling, maybe, but with pity.
Will she ever grow up?
No matter what I did, I was still defined by their standards. And so tonight, I was going to show up at a benefit dinner for some charity that I’d probably never heard of, in a dress that looked like I’d pulled it out of my mom’s closet. The best I could hope for was that someone would call it “retro” and that would be the end of the discussion.
I tossed the bag into my car, angrily, and drove home so aggressively that I swore I saw a few cab drivers cringe in fear.
“What if I just didn’t go?” was the first thing I said as I flung myself dramatically through the front door. The bag landed with a sad little thump.
Daniel didn’t look up from his phone. “It might look odd,” he said. “I mean, considering.”
. Obviously, I was supposed to remember what this benefit was actually for, and it probably had something to do with me. Women? Starving artists? The fashion-challenged?
“I don’t understand what’s happening with dresses this season,” I said. “There’s literally nothing good out there.”
“Did you go to Emily’s?” was his first question, predictably. “Her friend’s keeping it open for the week, you know.”
“I know. I can’t stand the way she looks at me.” Every time I went there when Emily wasn’t around, I could feel the judgment and distaste radiating off of her friend in waves. Apparently, she was descended from some obscure line of European royalty, but in my opinion that was absolutely no excuse.
Daniel, bless him, just stood up silently, came over, and kissed me gently on the forehead.
“It’s going to be a lovely night,” he said. “I promise. And you’ll look as beautiful as always.”
I melted a little.
“I’m sorry,” I said, wandering over and collapsing onto the sofa. “I’m just…I don’t know, I’m just tired.” It was true, and I was just now realizing it. I had absolutely no right to be, really. I drew pictures when I felt like it, had a few gallery showings every month, and went to charity galas where the most taxing thing I had to do was smile all night. But for some reason, lately, I’d just been exhausted. It didn’t matter how long I slept, I’d wake up bone-tired and drag myself through the rest of my day, aching to collapse into bed again.
Daniel followed me to the living room, lifting my legs up by my ankles so he could sit down, and then letting them back down to drape across his lap. “You seem to be sleeping well enough,” he said.
“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” I grumbled, draping my arm over my face. Somehow, even the sunlight filtering through the blinds was more than I could take right then. He was trying to tease me about my snoring, but I wasn’t really in the mood. I still wasn’t sure if I actually did it, or if he just claimed that I did because he enjoyed my outraged denials so much.
“How long have you been feeling like this?” he asked, stroking my leg gently. He sounded more concerned now, probably because I didn’t even have the energy to argue with him about what noises I might or might not make while I was asleep.
I shrugged. “Dunno. Feels like forever, but probably more like a week. Probably coming down with something.”
“Everyone’s sneezing,” he agreed. “Maybe you ought to go in and see someone. Just in case. If it’s the flu, you don’t want to wait too long or the treatments won’t work.”
tired,” I said, which wasn’t strictly true. But it was a different kind of tired than I’d ever really experienced, even when I was sick.
Daniel, for his part, never seemed to succumb to anything that went around. Since we’d been together, he’d seen me at my most pathetic - pale and sweating, shivering and sneezing and worse - but our situations had never been reversed. I smiled a little bit, trying to imagine Daniel with the sniffles.
He was stroking my leg gently. “Just find a way to live through tonight, and then you’ll get a few days off from all the taxing duties of being my wife.”