Authors: Avery James
It took Amy almost a minute to spot Ethan at the back corner of the bar. She was surprised it had taken her so long. Even across a dimly lit room, he had a brightness to him, an inner light that had a tendency to make him the center of attention. By the way he had positioned himself at the bar, Amy could tell he wasn’t interested in gaining anyone’s attention but hers. She watched him as he said something to the bartender. Then she waved off the hostess and began to make her way over to him.
Crossing the room, she felt excitement rising up inside her stomach, a nervousness that tied itself in knots. She was a consultant to movie stars, to moguls and kings, and yet she felt nervous even being in the same room as Ethan. Amy shook her head as she approached him. Buck up, she thought. Just find out what he wants and then head out. He was probably just trying to get a rise out of her. How sensitive could this proposal be? When she reached his side, she cleared her throat.
Amy was used to men like Ethan. They always had to win, and getting her to agree to meet him for a drink was just another form of winning. Whatever proposal he’d have would be some other game for him to win. She had wanted to be the one in the seat as he arrived, but he had denied her that, too. As annoyed as she was with him for that, she couldn’t deny the waves of nervousness that rushed through her body as he stood up to face her. He reached over and pulled out the chair for her. Amy laughed. “Really?” she asked. “I can get my own seat, Ethan.”
“I know,” he replied. “Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the effort.”
“This is a meeting, not a date.” Not that I can remember what it’s like to be on a date, Amy thought.
“Well, agree to disagree,” Ethan replied with a smile. He looked her over again as he waited for her response.
“No,” Amy replied. She pursed her lips and opened her eyes wide as she tried to express just how little patience she had for Ethan’s games. He was doing it again, getting under her skin. “I don’t date clients. I don’t get personally involved with clients.”
“And why is that again?” Ethan asked. Amy watched his grin grow wider as he waited for her response. She’s going to kill me when she hears what I have to say, he thought.
“I know my clients. You’re all the same. You all want one thing, and I’m not about to let you make me the center of a scandal myself.”
“I promise I won’t try to sleep with you,” Ethan said.
“Ha,” Amy said. “Like you’d even have a chance. I meant you want to win. It’s hard-wired into you.”
“How?” Ethan replied. “How does a drink with a colleague equate to needing to win? And how is it a scandal? It’s hardly tabloid material.”
“When the colleague is female and around your age, and while you’re still tabloid gold, it is.”
“You forgot attractive,” Ethan added.
“What?” Amy replied. Was he actually hitting on her after everything she had just said or was he that self absorbed that he was still talking about himself? “Did you just call yourself attractive?” Amy asked.
“No. You know what I meant,” he replied. Besides, if you weren’t attractive people would just assume you were my secretary or sister or something.”
“You date supermodels.”
“And as far as I know, you don’t date anyone. So like I said, I think we’re safe. What are they going to say? Ethan Cole spotted in public with a nun? I have half a mind to find out if you’re wearing a chastity belt under that dress.”
Amy laughed. “I swear if you make a nun joke.”
“I try not to make a habit of it.”
Amy shook her head and laughed before lowering her voice. She reached out, placed her hand over Ethan’s and asked, “Why are we here?”
“I’m thinking about getting married.”
“Are you really?” Amy asked with a grin. She wondered which South American supermodel had managed to pull the fleece over his eyes. “Let me guess, you want me to do some preemptive damage control.”
Ethan looked down and then met Amy’s glance, he had a sheepish smile on his face, like he was purposely leaving out some important detail. “Yeah, something like that.”
“Tell me you didn’t get her pregnant. It doesn’t do much for your image if you’re off knocking up Ms. Venezuela. What is she, seventeen or something?”
“No,” Ethan replied, “She’s about my age.”
“You’re using protection, right?”
“We’re not even having sex yet.”
“Really?” Amy replied. “She must be worth the wait.”
“I think so,” Ethan replied, he couldn’t help but smile. He felt like he was in the eye of the storm, watching the calm before all hell broke loose. Of course, hell breaking loose was the whole point of this meeting.
Amy watched his grin grow even wider. “What am I missing here?” she asked. “What is so funny? Do I know her?”
“Better than I do, believe it or not,” Ethan replied. “Though I’m guessing you don’t know her as well as you’d think. She’s in her thirties, a colleague of mine actually, a bit of a departure from the women I’ve been dating. Truth be told, a bit of a departure from pretty much everyone I know.”
“I know her, and she’s not a bimbo? Interesting. And you like her?”
“Yeah, I do,” he replied. “She’s honest and smart, and she calls me on my bullshit. Very few people do that.”
“I do that,” Amy replied. She felt a twinge of jealousy as she said it.
“How long have the two of you been together? I mean, the media is going to have a field day with this. You know that right? The playboy billionaire settling down. It will be the marriage of the century.”
“We’ve had a thing for years, and the media will never catch wind. It’s all going to be quiet. I think she’ll like it better that way.”
“Think?” Amy replied. “You mean you haven’t discussed it with her?” Amy picked up her glass of wine and took a deep sip. “So you’re going to propose to someone I know, and you haven’t even dropped a hint that you might be interested in marriage?” She leaned back in her chair a bit and waited to hear Ethan’s explanation of this one.
“Oh, I’ve been dropping hints all night,” Ethan replied. “And we’re talking about it right now.”
“What do you mean?” Amy asked.
“Amy, I’m asking you to marry me.”
As she listened to the words, Amy forgot all about her glass of wine and let it fall from her hand. She watched as it cracked off of the bar and shattered, spraying wine forward. As the sound rang through the bar, everyone else fell silent. Amy felt like her heart had stopped, and then everything flew into motion as she realized what was going on. “You’re joking, right? Is this a joke? Did my sister put you up to this on the phone this afternoon?”
Ethan smiled. “I didn’t know that Callie was your sister. I thought she was your secretary. That makes a lot of sense now. No, I’m completely serious. I need you to marry me, and I’m ready to make you the offer of a lifetime.”
Amy looked at Ethan again. He wasn’t smiling anymore. Was he insane? Amy raised her hand and signaled to the bartender. I’m going to need something stronger than wine, she thought. Then she turned to Ethan. “Explain. Now.”
“Have you ever been to Wyoming?” Ethan asked as the bartender came back with a new glass of wine.
“This better not be a repeat of Chicago.” Amy crossed her arms and stared at Ethan. “I am not in the mood for a repeat of Chicago. Are you being serious right now? I have an aunt’s birthday party to get to. I have a company to run. I’m not in the mood for a practical joke by the world-famous Ethan Cole. I suppose you think I should be flattered that you want me to marry you for some reason.
“First off, you and I remember that night in Chicago very differently,” Ethan replied.
“You make it sound like something happened between us.”
“Like I said,” Ethan repeated, “you and I remember that night very differently.”
Ethan reached down into his briefcase and pulled out a manila envelope. He placed it on the bar and slid it over to Amy. “It’s all right there in the prenup. All you have to do is sign, and the marriage contract is legally binding.”
Amy placed her hand over the envelope. “If you think for one second that I’m going to let you buy me.”
“Amy, you know that isn’t this at all. People have marriages of convenience all the time. You and I just happen to have the added bonus of being able to see opportunities and seize them. I need a wife.”
“So go and get one. Who is the latest model you were dating? Miss Russia or Brazil or?”
“Argentina,” Ethan replied. “And I called things off. She wasn’t really interested in me anyway, and, well, supermodel wife doesn’t exactly fit my needs at the moment.”
“What you need at the moment is someone to knock you in the side of the head,” Amy replied. “This is definitely Chicago all over again.”
“Like I said, I think you and I remember that night very differently, and you brought it up, not me. This is nothing like that. That was a moment, and this is a unique opportunity. I think you should consider my offer. A multibillion dollar deal that will help ensure the future of my company and the jobs of tens of thousands of people all depend on you helping me become a family man.”
“I need you to be my wife. Not for long, just long enough to convince Hank Hilson that I’m a good man, a family man, and someone worthy of taking the reins of Hilson Energy.”
“You run a tech company,” Amy replied. “Why in the world would you want to buy a business you know nothing about?”
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Hilson is retiring, and he is looking to sell the company. Almost no one knows, but I do, and I’ve been in talks with him for months. He likes me, but he doesn’t know if he can trust me.”
“So you want to lie to him and tell him that I’m your wife?”
“No, I want you to marry me and help me make my case to him. Hilson Energy is a relatively minor player in the energy sector. They are a regional supplier of oil and gas, but they also control rights to over half of the neodymium reserves in the western hemisphere.”
“Neodymium?” Amy asked. “You want me to pretend to be your wife so you can buy magnets?”
Ethan laughed. “Now you get it. It’s an essential component of modern electronics, and a major weakness in my supply chain. My company uses it in everything from cellphones to missiles, and Hilson’s other assets would help us deploy new technology in fields we’ve been trying to break into for years.”
“Again, I don’t see how or why this involves me in any way,” Amy replied.
“Hank Hilson is a family man,” Ethan replied. “And he wants to find someone who shares his values to take over his company. I tried to convince him to sell me just the mineral rights, but he won’t break up his company. I told him I understood and assembled a proposal to buy Hilson outright. He asked me if I was married, and I told him I was engaged to you.”
“I told him we were getting married in a small ceremony in DC, and that I wanted to keep the whole thing very quiet.” Ethan placed his hands on his head and ran his fingers through his hair as he took a deep breath. “He thinks we got married last weekend.”
Ethan leaned back as he looked over at Amy‘s expression changing as the disbelief and confusion gave way to indignation. He could see it in her eyes and in the way she scrunched up her nose as she scowled at him. He tried to hide his smile as he watched her sitting there, the blush coming into her cheeks as she got madder at him and formulated her rebuke. This was the thing that he liked best about Amy, the way she didn’t take bullshit from anyone, especially from him. That was a rare thing. Almost everyone else he knew, women especially, fell over themselves to appease him. Amy just looked like she wanted to take his head off, especially after they started talking about what had happened in Chicago.
She would have killed him if he said it out loud, but Ethan wanted to tell her how beautiful she was when she was mad like that, not truly angry, but just pissed off. It had been far too long since he had gotten a rise out of her like this, and he tried to enjoy it before she started yelling at him. It was also one of the reasons he had chosen a public place for the meeting. The last thing Amy would have wanted was to end up in a tabloid herself for a fight with the Ethan Cole. Ethan knew he only had a moment or two to make his next move or the whole thing would be ruined.
He reached forward and placed his hand on hers. “Before you say anything,” he said, “I want to tell you exactly what I’m prepared to offer.” This was the moment of truth. He needed to turn this from an argument into a negotiation, because if it were a negotiation, two things would happen. First, Amy would decide that she needed to win. Second, Amy would win by negotiating the best possible terms for herself. After all, this whole thing was in her best interest, and Ethan knew that deep down part of Amy wanted to see what it would be like to be with him. He was prepared to let her win. All he needed was for her to say yes.
“What’s your starting bid?”
“Yes, for three to four months of being my wife, a few trips to meet with the potential business partner. I could arrange a honeymoon as well. I know of a few places I think you’d like.”
Amy had stopped listening after five. Five million dollars. Amy was successful. She was very successful. She ran her own company. She owned a house in Georgetown. Five million was more than she made over the course of years of hard work, never mind months of on and off vacationing. She looked at Ethan and stayed silent. What was five million dollars to him anyway? He was one of the richest men in the world.
“I wouldn’t even consider it for less than ten,” she replied.
“Atta girl,” Ethan replied. “Aggressive, I like that. How about we split the difference, seven point five mil?”