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Authors: Frankie Love

KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys (6 page)

BOOK: KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys
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Chapter Nine
Claire

L
andon is completely serious
. His brows are slightly raised, waiting for my answer.

A fake fiancée?

The first thing to flash through my mind is the reason why I should say no: I can’t run off to England and leave Sophia.

Still ... two hundred and fifty grand for a week’s worth of “work”?

“Is there some weird catch to all of this?” I ask, setting down the cup of coffee, realizing that I need to get a clear picture of this proposal, distraction free. This is one of the biggest conversations of my life. It has the potential to change everything.

Landon laughs, flips the hair from his eyes. His chin is covered in five-o’clock shadow and his jawline all the sexier because of it.

“There’s no catch,” he says. “The job is fairly simple. And it should work as long as you don’t have any dirty secrets, because my brother will dig up any shit on you he can find. And that would ruin everything. My father needs to believe I’m living a blameless life.”

“How dirty is too dirty?” I swallow. Sophia isn’t exactly dirt, but she isn’t something I want anyone to know about. And she isn’t everything I am hiding.

“You have something in your past I should know about?”

“Nothing comes to mind,” I tell him plainly, not wanting to say anything that could be a deal breaker. I want this job. Scratch that—
need
this job.

“Good. Because when we convince them of our love, of our commitment, and most importantly make them believe that I’m a more stand-up guy than my brother, the money is yours.”

“But what if they catch us?” I ask, not entirely sure I can play the part of a sophisticated bride-to-be.

“If they catch us ... well, then they’ll be reminded of why they already think I’m an ass.”

“But if they don’t? If we convince them we’re the real thing, what’s in it for you?”

“If we pull this off, then my father will name me his successor. I’ll be the owner of The King’s Diamond.”

“Shit.” I shake my head. The stakes are high. I don’t know if I have the credentials to pull this off, but the idea of that much money makes me want to try.

The problems that I don’t know how to solve—Mom running out of Dad’s life insurance money, my job barely making me enough to cover my expenses, knowing I’ll never truly get ahead while living paycheck to paycheck, and knowing I’ll never be able to give Sophia a life any bigger than the one she currently has—would all be fixed with this money.

Hadn’t I been saying for weeks—years—that I wanted more? Maybe this “job” is exactly the opportunity I need.

“You’re the only woman I’d trust to do this,” Landon says, taking my hand in his. “You’re smart, appear put-together enough to be something more than a fling, and you’re hot. Which my parents would consider a prerequisite for any girl I’d consider marrying.”

“So basically I’m your perfect woman?” I tease, sitting back against the pile of pillows, really considering this offer.

“I don’t believe in perfect girls, Claire.”

“I didn’t know you were so jaded.”

“Life has hardened me, you know, caused me to see the world as a pessimist.” Landon smirks. “What do you say? Pretend to be my fiancée. If it fails, you’ve finally put that passport to good use. And if we succeed, you’ll be a quarter of a million dollars richer.”

“And you don’t feel bad about the scam?” I ask. “I don’t think I would want anyone to know what I’d be agreeing to.”

“Taking this company from Geoffrey would make me feel like the fucking King of England. He’s a massive prick, Claire, and has completely convinced my parents otherwise.”

“And when would we leave?”

“Tomorrow.” He runs his hand over his jaw, considering his words. “Obviously you’ll need some decent clothing and luggage, but we can get that all sorted. I mean, the only hang up will be if you have some dodgy past you’re not telling me about. Are you up for the task?”

I don’t want to pause too long on his words, give him any reason to doubt me. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. If I tell him that I have a daughter—among other things—he won’t give me this job. Besides, no one is seriously going to look into my past—or even my present. That stuff only happens in the movies.

I want this money. I need it. What I don’t need is to dredge up an ugly past that would cost me this job. So I’ll just have to win his brother over so he doesn’t start looking into my past.

I smile, realizing that I’m finally catching a break. And even though this job is straight up deceitful … it’s his relationship with his parents, not mine. All I need to do is smile and keep my mouth shut for one single week.

And then I can give Sophia the life I always dreamed of for her.

“So,” I say. “Looks like I’ll need an engagement ring.”

* * *


M
orning
, sweet pea,” I say, sitting on the edge of our bed, waking Sophia up from her slumber.

“Morning, Mama,” she says, snuggling deeper into the blankets.

I always hear these horror stories of children waking up at the crack of dawn, but that’s never been my Sophia. She sleeps hard and long.

“You gotta get up and get ready for school.” I kiss her soft cheek. “I brought you a special breakfast. It’s in the kitchen and you can have it once you’re dressed and your teeth are brushed.”

That gets her upright. “Is it my favorite?” she asks.

“You’ll have to wait and see.” I raise my eyebrows, teasing her. “Hustle, okay, so I can braid your hair.”

Sophia is a mini-me. She doesn’t take after her father, not a lick. She has my narrow frame, cornsilk-blonde hair, and bright green eyes. But she also has a hopefulness, a curiosity and wonder about her that I lost a long time ago.

“Okay, Mama.” She kisses me and I wrap my arms around her, squeezing tight.

I told Landon yes to the job when I left his suite, and I came up with a solid lie for my mom on my way back to the condo. The money isn’t something I can walk away from, but I don’t know if every one else will understand.

Lying to Landon’s family isn’t the hard part for me ... lying to Mom and Sophia is a little trickier.

Also, I’ll have to be apart from my little girl. The job will be over a week, when I factor in travel times, and we’ve never been apart for longer than one day.

But this isn’t about the lie right now, this is about our forever.

When Sophia heads to the bathroom, I make my way into the kitchen where Mom is pouring us coffee.

“No, thanks,” I tell her, sitting on a barstool at the island. “I had enough this morning.”

“You’ve been up for awhile?” she asks, adding cream to her mug.

“You know me. I’m an early riser.” I reach into my purse and pull out a to-go bag. “I brought donuts from the hotel.”

“So you stayed at Emmy’s last night?” Mom asks.

I immediately feel heat on my cheeks. One thing about being blonde and fair-skinned is that my face constantly betrayed me.

“What aren’t you saying, Claire?” Mom asks, leaning on the island counter.

“Mom, don’t be awkward. Of course I was with Emmy and Tess.”

Mom raises her hands in defeat. “Okay, honey, I’ll mind my own business. I take it the night was ho-hum, then—no man asked you out and swept you off your feet?”

“I don’t believe in getting swept off my feet for one, and two, Sophia is down the hall. I don’t want her to get the wrong idea.”

“I don’t think you falling in love is the worst idea, Claire.”

“Love? Nobody is talking about love.” I scoff, remembering my exchange earlier with Landon, when he admitted he is a jaded pessimist. Knowing that I am too.

“Okay, so you didn’t fall in love. What did you girls do?”

Knowing Sophia would walk in the room any moment, but also wanting to tell Mom about the job, I talk a hyper-speed.

“Okay,” I tell her. “Dinner was fine. But what happened next is a little crazy. While we were at the hotel, I was offered a one-week trip to England.”

“What?” Mom asks, confused.

I fill her in on who Landon is—not the we-had-sex part, the friend of Ace’s part. “He needs to go home for work, his father owns The King’s Diamond—very fancy stuff—and he needs a plus one at the events. He asked if I wanted to go. Not like as his date,” I clarify, “but as his friend.” I wave my hand in the air, hoping it sounds plausible.

She tilts her head to the side, trying to absorb the information.

“It’s just for one week,” I explain. “But he leaves tomorrow.”

“And is your boss okay with you going?

“Ace is fine with it,” I say, embellishing. “What do you think?”

“I think it seems a little too good to be true. But you’ve wanted to go there your whole life, Claire.” Mom pats my hand, knowing that so much of my life didn’t turn out how I hoped. “Sophia will be fine with me. You deserve to have fun. To smile. I miss that.”

Just then Sophia walks in, dressed for the day, with a hairbrush and hair tie in hand. “Was I right?” she asks, a bright smile crossing her dimpled cheek. “Donuts?”

“You betcha.” I kiss the top of her head as I help her onto the stool beside me. She reaches in and finds her favorite pink frosting and sprinkled cake confection.

She starts eating, licking her fingers with each bite.

“So you’d be leaving tomorrow?” Mom asks discreetly, turning to get Sophia a glass of orange juice.

After she hands it to her, I pivot Sophia on the stool and start dividing her hair for a side-part fishtail braid. I’ve perfected the look, which is both adorable and functional. Sophia detests hair in her face when she plays at recess.

“Yeah, I’m not sure what time yet. Does leaving,” I point to Sophia’s head, “make me an awful person?”

“You’re not an awful person, Mama,” Sophia says with her mouth full of donut.

“No, your Mama is a perfect person. And she deserves to be happy. To smile. And she gets to go on a vacation with her friend.”

I breathe a huge sigh of relief at her words. My mom is able to make me leaving as un-dramatic as possible, and I appreciate it. I was about to make it this huge ordeal that neither of us would recover from.

“Mama doesn’t have friends,” Sophia says, laughing. “She just has us.”

I finish the braid and pat the top of her head, trying to not let her words hit me too hard in the chest. Mom watches me sadly, probably able to use X-ray vision to see the lump that seems to have formed in my throat, the tears insisting on springing to my eyes. She’s mentioned plenty of times that I’m too protective, too private. That I need to bring my friends around and let them into my life.

The thing is, if I let people in, they might hurt me. And I don’t want that, I don’t think I can even handle that. Not after everything with Sophia’s dad.

So I keep people at arm’s length. That way no one can hurt Sophia or me.

But it seems that if I’m going to do this job, Landon and I might end up getting a lot more personal than I’m used to.

The paycheck would make it worth it. And still, I can get personal without telling him about my daughter.

“Well,” I tell Sophia. “I think I do have a new friend. And Gram is right, I’m going on a trip with him.”

“Good,” Sophia says, patting my arm. “Mrs. Nightingale says having friends help us share and practice being nice, and makes our lives better.”

“Sounds like your teacher is pretty smart,” my mom says. “And it looks like your mom’s trip will help her learn all sorts of things.”

Looking at the clock on the microwave, I realize it’s time to go. My mom hands me the already assembled school snack. I get the backpack. Sophia finds her windbreaker. All three of us head for the door.

We are a unit, a family that works together, seamlessly. My life wouldn’t work without the two of them, and I think that us being here has kept my mom happy since my dad died.

Sophia runs out the door, and I pause before following.

“You’ll be okay for a week with Sophia?” I ask.

“Honey, I think you need to remember what it means to have a friend.”

“Landon isn’t a friend-friend. He just needs my help.”

“Call it what you like, but he’s offered you a trip to the place you’ve wanted to go your entire life. Remember those waltz lessons and those embroidered pillows you used to make? Our whole house was filled with them. Go play, be happy.”

I help Sophia buckle up in her booster seat, and then I get in the car and leave the condo parking lot. Looking in the rearview mirror, I watch Sophia.

Leaving her will be hard, but maybe Mom is right. Maybe it’s time I learn how to live.

BOOK: KING: Las Vegas Bad Boys
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