Authors: Lucy Lambert
The Pretend Fiancé: A Billionaire Love Story
Published by Pub Yourself Press, 2014.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
THE PRETEND FIANCÉ: A BILLIONAIRE LOVE STORY
First edition. July 23, 2014.
Copyright © 2014 Lucy Lambert.
Written by Lucy Lambert.
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hat is the holdup?" Aiden called up the stairs.
"What's your rush?" Gwen yelled back as she tried to pull the strap of the red pump up over the lump of her heel.
Normally she didn't have this much trouble dressing herself. But there was nothing normal about her life at that moment.
Her eyes kept straying over to the broad bay window. Or, rather, what she could see through said window. Mountains. White-capped mountains with the bluest pool of water Gwen had ever seen at their base. She didn't think anything could be that blue.
"They can't start the party until we get there, for one," Aiden said.
"Then that means they can wait!"
Aiden's chuckle reached her up the stairs and she couldn't help smiling.
She wondered what her parents would think of her chosen attire for the night. The red dress hugged her body, showing off the curve of her hips. She wouldn't have minded if it had been a little sexier, actually. The bodice displayed the barest hint of cleavage, and the hem ended exactly over her knees.
"You look amazing!"
Gwen turned and saw Aiden at the top of the stairs. He looked dashing in his coal black tux, his shoes polished to a mirror shine that even the most meticulous of drill sergeants couldn't take issue with.
Despite having been together with Aiden for close to a year now, Gwen still blushed when he complimented her, and the feel of his eyes on her body stirred at the embers of a heat locked deep within.
She threw her arms up around his broad shoulders. The pumps she had on diminished the height advantage that he had over her.
"Really?" she said. "You think so? Because I could think of something more comfortable to wear right now..." Her eyes tracked over to the king-size bed with its sumptuous covers and piles of plush pillows. She'd been wanting to jump onto that mattress with him ever since arriving at the hotel, but so far he'd been able to resist her womanly charms.
Aiden's hands swept around her and locked at the small of her back. He pulled her closer so that she could smell the musk of his aftershave and the hint of his cologne. Her mouth went dry.
"I wish we could... But your parents are getting here any time now. And then
ll be here, too," Aiden said.
He groaned when Gwen let her lips graze along his jaw line and then down his throat. She plucked at the buttons holding his jacket on. "Are you sure about that?" Gwen said, letting the heat of her breath caress his neck.
She liked how he was still so attracted to her, so turned on by her, after all these months.
"Gwen..." he said, trying to stop her efforts, his resistance fading with each passing moment.
"They can wait. They can all wait. My parents, your grandmother. All the others. They can wait," Gwen said, getting ready to lead him back to that beckoning bed. Those embers within her flared up into flames of desire, her legs getting rubbery and her inner thighs heating.
As soon as Gwen mentioned Aiden's grandmother, his playful resistance turned real. Gently, he moved her hands away and then popped his jacket buttons back into place. And then he took a pointed step back from her, leaving a protective cushion of air between them.
"I want to, I really do. But not now. Everything needs to follow the schedule."
Gwen crossed her arms beneath her breasts and gave him her best pout. "Okay, fine. I don't see why you're so worked up about this. It's just a party. Relax."
"Right," Aiden said, his eyes dropping. He smoothed down his jacket, his hands running over the expensive fabric, and blew out his cheeks. "You're right. Just a party."
Gwen closed the gap between them and then tugged at his bow tie, straightening it. "After all the stuff we've been through together, with... with Henry, I can't believe anyone could still make you this nervous," she said.
Time hadn't softened the memory of Aiden's father for either of them. Sometimes Gwen woke up from nightmares about being chased by the paparazzi, or of standing in Henry's high-ceilinged office. And it had taken Aiden a long time to come to grips as well, what with Henry's deathbed reconciliation.
"You'll see why when you meet her," Aiden said. He rolled his shoulders like an athlete limbering up for a bout, then offered Gwen the crook of his elbow. "Shall we?"
udith Manning had never liked Switzerland. It wasn't the breathtaking mountain vistas she could see through her limousine's windows as the long vehicle wended its way through the cramped European streets. It wasn't the fresh, crisp air she breathed with every breath.
"How much longer?" she asked the driver, her voice still more than powerful enough to make the capped man start.
"A few minutes, ma'am," he replied.
Normally Judith wouldn't have bothered coming to such an occasion as this. But she'd puzzled out the true nature of the gathering. The true motive behind it all. And she couldn't stay out of things any longer. Not where her family was concerned.
No, it wasn't the beautiful stylings of the place she hated, or the languages, or anything like that. It was the neutrality. Protected by its ring of mountains, Switzerland always did its best to stay out of things. It stood for nothing. You could never trust anything that stood for nothing. Conviction got you places in life, choosing a side or a path or a course of action.
That's what Judith had always done, at least.
Her hand slipped from her lap and fell on the pile of papers and documents that took up the seat beside her. Some of them were business papers detailing the death of her son, Henry, and the impact that would have on the economy. Others dealt with the passing of the crown to young Aiden, and whether he was suited to the task.
Still others were gossip pieces, talking at length about his courtship of this nothing girl, Gwendolyn Browning.
Gwendolyn. Such an old name for such a young face, Judith thought, picking up one of the glossy gossip rags with a title she couldn't bother remembering. They were all the same, in any case.
Inside was a picture of this Gwen with Aiden at her side. Aiden had so much of his father in him. In the shape of his face, his stature. There were hints of his mother there, too, softening the often harsh Manning lines.
And then there was Gwendolyn. This little mouse of a girl whose nose looked about ready to twitch off her face.
Below all those glossy magazines were manila folders and envelopes. Most of them from private detectives or government agencies. All of them talking in great depth about this Gwen and her family. Some of them were from lawyers, discussing that obscene contract that Aiden had submitted to Gwen.
Just thinking about that left Judith queasy.
How could Aiden have stooped to such a level? And for a girl so ordinary and plain as this one?
And all of them led Judith Manning to one inescapable conclusion: Gwen Browning was an opportunistic gold digger from a broken family out to get Aiden's money.
"We've arrived at the hotel, ma'am," the driver said, glancing at her in the rear view mirror and then quickly fixing his eyes back on the curved drive that led to the front doors of the opulent building as though looking at Judith for any length of time would incur her wrath.
"Excellent," Judith said, a small smile curving her thin, bloodless lips. Well, Gwen, and Aiden, too, were both in for quite the surprise.
wen and Aiden stood at the base of a grand, curving staircase. Paintings and portraits of stuffy aristocrats lined the white walls. Massive chandeliers hanging from the ceilings lent the warmth of their light to the foyer. Butlers and valets in their black suits moved about, helping guests with their luggage. It wasn't like an American hotel at all.
For one, it was much quieter. It was as though the age and grandeur of the old building held a sort of sanctity that few were loathe to break. People spoke in whispers.
Despite all that, Gwen couldn't help fidgeting, plucking at her dress. When Aiden noticed, he took her hands in his and caught her eyes.
"Don't worry, I'm sure they're both fine. And stop that! You're going to start pulling threads out, and you know where that leads," he said.
Gwen could remember that moment at Astor's party back in New York as though it happened yesterday. Aiden pulling the loose string from her dress. He'd unraveled her whole life with that little motion. But she as glad of it, because now they were together.
"Maybe. Oh, I wish you'd arranged separate cars for them!"
"Oh, I'm sure they can sit with each other for the fifteen minutes or so it takes to get here from the airport," Aiden said.
Gwen gave him a sigh for that. He never understood the rift between her parents, and she never seemed able to explain it to him. He'd never known his mother, and the concept of bickering parents was alien to him.
"The last time their lawyers arranged a sit down," Gwen said, "Mom launched herself across the table at dad within five minutes. It took me and both the lawyers to unwrap her fingers from his throat."
She caught Aiden's small smile before he could hide it. And in retrospect, it was a rather comical scene: a grown man being choked on the floor of the solicitor's office by a small woman, three people trying to pry her hands away.
"And do you want to know why she did it? What made her come this close to murdering my dad in front of so many witnesses?"
"It took him too long to uncap the pen his lawyer gave him," she said. She remembered her mom screaming about how useless her father was, how he couldn't do anything right.
"So is it done with yet? Are they divorced?" Aiden said, watching the flow of people coming into the hotel.
"I don't know, actually. That meeting was just before we left for Europe. They were supposed to get everything signed there, but obviously they didn't."
They'd both made a point of disconnecting from their everyday lives while overseas. Aiden had delegated a great deal of the responsibility of running Carbide Solutions to various corporate minions and Gwen had made sure to tell her parents not to draw her into their bickering while away. This was supposed to be a time where Gwen and Aiden could be together, just the two of them enjoying the other's company.
"I'm sure they'll behave," Aiden said, "After all..." he started, but caught himself.
"After all what?" Gwen said. Why was Aiden being so weird and nervous all of a sudden?
Before she could continue that line of questioning, he nodded at the doors. When Gwen looked, she saw her parents come inside. Her father, David, his high forehead glinting in the light, stopped just within the foyer and squinted around, unintentionally blocking a pair of women behind him.
"I hate when you do that!" her mother, Barb, said, her voice easily audible across the foyer. David jumped at the sound of it and made a hasty apology to the women he'd blocked.
Gwen's heart somehow simultaneously dropped down into her stomach and rose up into her throat. Clearly, it hadn't been a pleasant ride over from the airport. David had pulled his tie loose and undone his top button, a permanent flinch fixed to his face that scrunched tighter every time Barb berated him about something.
Barb had apparently put her hair up in a bun, but all the shaking of her head from said beratings had undermined the hairdo, letting strands poke out at odd angles.
Both of them looked about ready to burst from hypertensive rage.
"Should we do something...?" Aiden said, seeing the way the valets and butlers kept eying the couple like the pair of crazy Americans they were.