Authors: Robin Kaye
“With this ring I thee wed. With my body I thee worship. With all my worldly goods I thee endow.”
The shock about the rings was diminished by the overwhelming panic she felt when she heard those fatal words. No matter how fake she knew them to be, the fact that this marriage was legally as binding as any other left her shaken. When Rosalie handed her a ring, she mumbled something just wanting the whole thing to be over. The room was closing in on her and she didn’t have enough air. She was just about to run when Ben wrapped an arm around her and leaned in for a kiss. When his lips touched hers, all thoughts of Ben being gay seemed to take a backseat to the fireworks going off in her mind and body. It was at that moment Gina realized she’d just made the biggest mistake of her life.
Ben bent down to kiss Gina because it was expected and to show Rich Ronaldi, in case he had any question, just where he could stuff his concern. Ben wasn’t sure why he felt the need, since Rich was married to Ben’s partner in the Gallery and he knew Becca and Rich were disgustingly happy. Still, when Rich stuck his nose into the conversation during their marriage ceremony time-out, Ben had the urge to flatten him.
Gina stiffened and then melted as her mouth softened beneath his. For a little thing, she sure packed one hell of a powerful punch. Ben hadn’t expected the way his heart would race or the way she’d feel when he held her against him. He pulled away and watched as she blinked and then stepped back looking just as shell-shocked as he felt. Note to self: No more kissing his wife. Ever.
Rosalie stepped in between them to hug Gina who looked as if she still hadn’t recovered, not that Ben had. He found himself shaking hands with Rich and then on the receiving end of a kiss on both cheeks and a hug from Rosalie.
After thanking the Justice of the Peace and signing the marriage certificate, Ben looked at his new wife and waited, not sure of what to do. Rosalie and Rich watched him expectantly. “How about all of us going to lunch to celebrate?”
Gina shook her head. “I can’t. I took today off for this and to move into Rosalie’s old place.”
“Why? We’re going to buy a place together. That was the plan.”
Gina looked exasperated. “Yeah, but until then I needed a place to stay. I’m not going back to my sister and brother-in-law’s. Not after today.”
Ben shrugged. “No problem. I’ll help you move.”
Gina didn’t giggle like most women he knew; she guffawed. “You in your $2,000 suit. I don’t think so. Besides, I’m fine on my own.”
All Ben could picture was her in that do-me dress, with those sexy-as-hell heels making her legs look longer than any short woman’s legs should, dealing with big sweaty movers. “We can stop by my place on the way and I’ll change. It’s not a big deal. I’m sure you could use the help. Moving is awful.”
“Not for me it’s not.”
Ben’s mind was made up. “I insist.”
Gina’s eyes went wide and she licked her lips. Ben had a feeling she didn’t mean for that to look like a come-on, but it did.
“Look, cowboy, just because you’re used to ordering people around doesn’t mean—”
Rosalie tugged on Gina’s arm and pulled her aside. “No fighting on your wedding day. That’s bad luck.” She whispered, “Gina, you married him, you could be a little nicer. I know this is more of a business deal than a real marriage, but it would be easier all around if you could bend a little. Like it or not, you’re still legally his wife and the man wants to help. Would you just say thank you and let him?”
Gina skewered Rosalie with a look. “I don’t need help.”
“Of course you do. Everyone needs help when they move. You remember my move to Nick’s. It took all of us days.”
“Yeah, but I don’t collect stuff like you do. I can move everything I own in one cab ride.”
Gina looked over at Ben and Rich, Ben was tossing his keys in the air, catching them again. Gina pasted a smile on her face and shrugged. “Fine. I’ll be nice. Are you happy now?”
Rosalie nodded. “Are you?”
Ignoring the question, Gina said good-bye to Rich, and made her way back to Ben. She told herself that Rosalie had a point; the man was paying her a fortune to be his wife. It wouldn’t kill her to watch what she said.
He turned toward her and smiled. “I have a car waiting. Come on, let me help. I want to, really.”
“Fine, if I do, will you promise to leave me alone?” Gina let him hold her coat because she was trying to be nice. She even bit her tongue while he led her to the waiting car. Ben nodded to the driver as he opened the door for them. “Take us back to my place and then we’re going to Gina’s.”
Gina followed Ben into his loft above the gallery. It was still immaculate. She’d never seen a man’s apartment so clean and tidy. She attributed it to the fact that except for the few times she’d stopped by her soon-to-be upstairs neighbors, Henry and Wayne, she hadn’t made a habit of hanging out with gay men. She took off her coat, laid it on the white couch, and sat while Ben tossed his keys on the table.
“If you want to grab something to drink, there’s plenty in the kitchen.” He pointed to the swinging door. “Help yourself. I’ll just be a minute.”
Gina picked up a
magazine from the top of a pile on the chrome and glass coffee table. “I’m fine. Go ahead and change. The sooner you do, the sooner I can move my things to Rosalie’s.” She checked her watch, hoping she could get everything out before her sister Tina came home. She’d leave a note saying she’d moved out. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t mentioned she was planning to, although she’d never given them a firm date. She’d also avoid telling Tina and Sam she ran off and got married. It was much better to ask for forgiveness than permission, not that she needed either.
Ben disappeared down the hall. She blew her hair out of her eyes and found herself listening to him padding around. Within a few minutes, Gina bored of the magazine. Wine and gourmet food were not on her list of interests. Though the pictures were really pretty, they made her hungry and just reminded her of the difference between her and her new… well, whatever Ben was.
She tossed the magazine back on the pile when a big hand reached down and put it back on the stack of fanned magazines correctly. She was tempted to just mess them all up. “What are you? OCD?”
Gina looked up and blinked, repeatedly. Mr. Hugo Boss was now looking more like the bad boy she’d always wished would move next door. He wore well-worn Levi’s, a rugged wool sweater that looked as if it had been around the block a few times, and scuffed hiking boots. She wondered if he bought distressed boots the way a person buys distressed jeans.
“I’m not OCD. I just like the place to look neat.”
“Uh huh, like I said, OCD. Nice getup. Is that your straight look?”
Ben looked down at his clothes. “You said I should change, I changed.”
“I didn’t mean you had to dress to hide your sexual orientation. Though, I gotta say, you do it well.”
Ben ran his hands through his hair. “These are my casual clothes. I don’t wake up in the morning and throw on a suit or dress clothes just for kicks. It’s one thing if I have a meeting, but if not or if I’m just hanging, this is pretty much how I dress.”
Gina didn’t look as if she believed him. Maybe she didn’t understand. “You see, from the time I was a little kid, I had to dress for business. My grandfather does business all over the world. I met Queen Elizabeth for the first time when I was eight and even a kid from Idaho isn’t going to wear jeans and a T-shirt to a royal’s garden party.”
“When I went to college, I started going to art shows and openings. I couldn’t very well wear a Brooks Brothers suit there and fit in. Could I?”
Gina tilted her head and eyed him. “I guess you could have tried, but it would have killed your love life.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “Do you have only one style?” He looked Gina up and down. “I doubt you’d wear that dress to the office.”
“So why do I get the feeling you think I should dress the same everywhere?”
Gina stood and looked around. “Because you live here. Look at this place, you’re practically the OCD poster child, and because you’re richer than The Donald—you never see him out of a suit and tie.”
“Just because Gramps has money doesn’t mean we go around wearing three-piece suits all day, or even dress for dinner. Most of the time Gramps is in a pair of baggy Dockers and a sweatshirt. He buys a new Cadillac every five years whether he needs it or not, and he wouldn’t be caught dead living in a place like the Trump Towers. He’s a billionaire, but when it comes down to it, he’s a simple man who never saw the value of flaunting anything, not his wealth, or his knowledge. Every Saturday morning, he goes to a greasy spoon to meet up with his buddies for flapjacks, coffee, and to bore each other with stories they’ve all heard a thousand times. He looks like every other sixty-year-old man in the place.”
Gina crossed her arms. “I thought you said he was eighty.”
Ben smiled. “He is. He just doesn’t look it.” He picked up his keys and tossed them in the air before catching them. “You know, Gina. This is real life. It’s not like what you see on soaps.”
She didn’t say anything; she just stared at him like he’d grown another head.
“When I’m not working, I’m usually hiking, skiing, biking, camping, or helping my wife move. I’m not going to ruin designer clothes. Heck,” he pulled on his worn sweater, “I wouldn’t have dressed this nicely if I didn’t think we’d probably stop for lunch somewhere.”
She still looked skeptical. What did it matter what she thought? After he bought her dream home, they’d part company and only see each other whenever absolutely necessary. “Are you ready to go?”
Gina grabbed her coat and hightailed it out of his place. Just as well, he wasn’t interested in her getting comfortable in his apartment, or even with him.
When they arrived at Gina’s, Ben followed her into the tiny apartment. “How long have you lived here?”
“A couple of years. My sister and brother-in-law are saving to buy their own place. They had a second bedroom so I moved in to help.”
“Tina, is that you?”
Gina let out an expletive that sounded Spanish just before a mountain of a man walked out of the kitchen. He looked at Ben and scowled. “Who the hell are you?”
Gina stepped in front of him, placed her hands on her hips, and stood up to the huge guy. “What are you doing home?”
“It’s my day off. What the heck are you doing here in the middle of the day dressed like that?” It was just about that time he noticed her ring. “What the hell? You’re married?”
Gina looked down at her ring and cursed. “I forgot to take it off.”
The guy looked as though he was about to explode. Ben pulled Gina behind him and held out his hand. “I’m Ben Walsh, Gina’s husband.”
The guy puffed out his chest and crossed his arms.
Gina shot Ben an angry look and tried to push him back, but he didn’t move. “Sam Corrigan, this is Ben Walsh. Ben, this is my brother-in-law, Sam.” She blew her bangs out of her eyes. “Sam, behave.”
“You run off and get married without saying a word to Tina, and you’re telling me to behave?”
If it were possible, Sam looked even angrier.
“I told you I was moving out.”
“You told us yesterday. You forgot to mention the whole marriage thing and since when is marriage temporary?”
The front door opened and a woman who looked a whole lot like Gina walked in. “What is going on? I heard you two yelling all the way from the elevator.”
Sam glared at Gina. “Go ahead, Gina. Explain to your sister why you got married to this guy without a word to either of us.”
Tina’s eyes went wide. “You what?”
Gina turned to Ben. “Ben, this is my little sister Tina. Tina, this is Ben Walsh. And don’t look at me like that. I was going to tell you about it.”
Sam put his arm around his wife. “She said it’s temporary.”
Tina’s shock was evident.
Gina nodded and swallowed hard. “It’s a long story.”
It took one trip for Gina, Ben, and the driver to have all her worldly possessions in her new place. After throwing the suitcases on top of the unmade bed, she turned to find Ben leaning against the doorjamb to her bedroom. “Where’s the driver?”
“I sent him away.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Then why are you still here?”
“I let him go. I didn’t need him any longer. If I had known you had so few things, I would have just brought my car.”
Gina raised an eyebrow. “And how are you planning to get home?”
Ben shrugged with one shoulder since the other was holding him up while he leaned. “I can call a cab or take the train.”
She remembered what Rosalie said about being nice and kept her mouth shut. What she really wanted to know was when he was leaving. She had a lot to do. It would take her a couple hours at the most to unpack, then she needed to run to the store to buy groceries and, Lord knows, she didn’t want to spend any more time with Ben than absolutely necessary.
He cleared his throat, which brought her attention back to him. “I thought we could set up some appointments to look at houses.”
Gina would rather discuss this anywhere but inside her new bedroom, but since he took up the entire doorway, she was stuck. “What’s the rush?”
“I’ve got to get back to Idaho, so the sooner we buy a place, the sooner I can leave.”
Gina was happy where she was and the thought of moving again, even though it wasn’t much trouble, wasn’t something she looked forward to. “Okay, I guess there’s no harm in looking but I have one problem.”
Ben straightened up and looked almost eager. “What’s that? I’m good at solving problems.”
“Whatever we buy will have to be furnished, either by the former owner or by me.”
Ben crossed his arms over his chest further blocking her in. “A deposit has been made to your account so spending money on furniture won’t be an issue.”
For the first time, the reality of what she’d done hit her. Someone was filling her bank account with money just for saying two little words—I do. “How much?”
“I had my accountant send over $50,000. I know it’s a bit more than we agreed on, but there are always unexpected expenses and you’ll need to go shopping so you have some evening wear on hand for our occasional dates. I’ll reimburse you for any expenses and if you’d like, we can lump the cost of furnishing the house into the money set aside for housing.”
Gina wanted to get past him so she could think. There was $50,000 sitting in her bank account? One inner voice screamed, “Yes!” and planned a shopping spree while the other screamed, “You’re a whore just like your mother.” She did her best to ignore both. She needed to be rid of Ben so she could think, but it didn’t look as if he was going to move any time soon. Maybe he’d leave if she placated him. She blew her bangs out of her eyes. “Do you have a newspaper? We could look at the real estate listings.”
“No, but I have a Realtor on speed-dial.”
So much for that idea. “Of course you do.”
“I called her last week. She’s found a few places she thought we might like.”
Gina chewed on the side of her thumb trying to keep her temper. She was not used to being out-maneuvered. “When is the meeting?”
“Whenever you’re ready.”
Gina looked around at her two boxes and numerous suitcases and shrugged. The sooner she got this over with, the sooner he’d be on his way. “I have to change. I can’t very well go house hunting dressed like this.” She picked up the full skirt of her dress and let it drop; the fabric swishing down her legs.
Ben smiled that slow sexy smile of his that made her toes want to curl. “I don’t see why not. You look fabulous.”
“Ben, just so you know, that wasn’t a request for a compliment. It was a hint for you to leave so I can find something to change into.”
“Oh, okay. How long do you need?”
“To change? Maybe fifteen minutes since I have to dig through suitcases.”
“I’ll call Jess and give her a heads up.”
Gina crossed her arms. “Yes, you do that. Right after you get out of my bedroom.”
Ben nodded, flipped his keys in the air, caught them, and stepped out just before Gina shut the door on his face.
Gina kicked off her shoes, unzipped her dress, and unfastened the halter letting it fall to the floor. Unsnapping her garters, she shimmied out of her hose. Gina rummaged around in her suitcase looking for a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. By the time she was dressed, the room looked as if a bomb went off in it. Great. Ben knocked. “What is it?”
When she opened the door, Ben did a double take, obviously surprised she could make such a big mess in less time than it took him to make a phone call. “Jess said she’d be here in ten minutes. We’ll grab a quick lunch with her before going to look at the places she’s lined up.” Lucky for him he didn’t mention the mess. Smart boy.
Gina picked up her stockings and rolled them together. “That’s fine. I’ll be out right after I hang up my dress.” She figured he’d leave. He didn’t. He just stood there watching her, which was a bit unnerving. She hung her dress and placed her shoes neatly on the shoe rack, then turned to find Ben holding her garter. Great. She ripped it out of his hand, balled it up, and stuffed it back into an open suitcase.
“I didn’t think women wore those outside the bedroom.”
Gina laughed. “Shows how much you know.” She unzipped another bag and pulled out her leather jacket. “I hate panty hose and thigh highs don’t stay up, so I wear garters all the time.”
Ben swallowed the few comments he thought about making. He’d almost forgotten Gina thought he was gay. Now that he thought about it, it was probably a mistake calling Jess to show them houses. Jess and he had dated a few years ago and she knew he was definitely heterosexual. Maybe if he introduced Gina as his wife, it would put a stop to any reminiscing Jess might want to do.
The intercom beeped announcing a visitor. Gina threw her jacket on before grabbing her purse. “I guess the Realtor is here.”
Ben opened the door and took Gina’s keys from her to lock up. “It sounds that way. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
They met Jess on the stoop. “Jess, this is my wife, Gina. Gina, this is an old friend, Jessica Spencer.” He gave Jess a pointed look hoping she’d take the hint not to discuss their past liaison.
Jessica did a double take. “You’re married?”
Ben put his arm around Gina. “Yeah, just today, actually.”
Jess looked Gina up and down and unsuccessfully tried to hide her shock. “Congratulations!” She gave him a hug and then shook Gina’s hand with both of hers. “I never thought I’d see the day someone landed Ben Walsh.”
Gina snorted. “Yeah, well, what can I say? He drove a hard bargain.”
He gave Gina a pinch on her very pinchable ass and ignored her little jump. Serves her right.
Jess smiled her fake model smile. “Let’s go celebrate over lunch, shall we? That way we can talk about what you’re both looking for in your new home.”
Gina stood in the entry of a Romanesque Revival mansion in Montgomery Place, one block off the park. “This is just too big. It’s five stories, Ben. Count them, five.” She held a finger up for each floor and counted them off. “
Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco
Jess stood off to the side as Ben pulled Gina into his arms, a place she definitely did not want to be. This show he was putting on for the Realtor was beginning to get on Gina’s nerves.
“I know it’s large, but it’s well within our price range and you have to admit, it’s beautiful.”
Gina did her best not to look at him. Instead she checked out all the molding on the walls, the rich colors they were painted, and the elaborate woodwork. If someone had told her last year she’d be standing in a home like this, no less considering purchasing it, she’d have thought the person was insane.
She whispered, “Ben, I can’t live in a place like this.”
“Sure you can.” When she shook her head, he pulled her closer. “Let’s at least look at it. You’re the one who wants to stay here in Brooklyn. If you don’t, I’m sure we can find a great penthouse in the city.”
“I’m not a penthouse type of girl.” Before he could say anything to rebut her statement, she continued, “I’m not a Romanesque Revival mansion type either.”
Ben squeezed her hand. “Come on, give it a chance. You might just surprise yourself.”
She doubted it. The place looked like a museum.
Ben didn’t let go of her hand as he and Jess dragged her from room to room, each more gorgeous than the last. When they hit the master bedroom, he looked over at Jess. “Do you think the owners would be interested in selling the place furnished?”
Jess’ eyes glazed over, Gina was sure she was seeing dollar signs. “The owners didn’t mention it, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.”
Ben nodded. “Why don’t you give them a call while Gina and I talk.”
Jess took the hint and closed the door behind her, leaving Gina stuck in yet another bedroom with Ben. She turned on him and poked his chest. “Are you nuts? What am I going to do with this much space?”
Ben calmly removed her finger from his chest and held her hand in his as he shook his head at her like she was an errant schoolgirl. “I told you we could spend about ten million. This place is only going for three point seven. With the downturn in the real estate market, it’s cheap, but that’s not helping you. It would probably be better for you to go to the city and let me buy one of those penthouses I mentioned, but if you insist on staying in Brooklyn, this is about the best you can do. I suppose I could put whatever we don’t spend of the housing fund into a trust for you. That seems fair, doesn’t it?”
Gina shook her head and blew her bangs out of her eyes. “It’s insane. I never said you had to spend that much. Heck, I’d be happy staying in Rosalie’s place.”
Ben pulled her over and sat on the bed. She flopped down next to him. “I need to buy a home and spend the expected amount of money if we’re going to make this marriage look real. That’s the point here, Gina.”
She shrugged and chewed on the side of her thumb. “Then buy it. I guess I could live in one of the attic rooms. It would be about the same as staying in an extremely nice fifth-floor walk-up.”
“Nonsense. Why stay there when you can stay in this room?”
“You don’t get it, do you? You saw where I came from. Tina and Sam’s apartment is the nicest place I’ve ever lived by far. Going from a small two-bedroom in Spanish Harlem to a mansion in one day is disconcerting.”
Ben smiled. “Yeah, but in a good way.”
“Ben, I think this whole marriage thing was a mistake. Look, why don’t we just get it annulled and you can marry someone like that Realtor who’s been making eyes at you all afternoon.”
Ben raised his eyebrows. “Are you jealous?”
Gina laughed. “Hardly. I just think it’s funny because her gaydar is on the fritz. She obviously didn’t get the upgrade. What does she think, there are no gay guys from Iowa?”
Gina waved away his correction. “Whatever.”
“We’ve been married all of four hours and you’re already trying to get rid of me? This is working out better than I expected.”
Gina wanted to wipe that smirk right off his too-pretty face.
“Let’s see if we can buy this place with the furniture and then I’ll be out of your hair for the foreseeable future.”
“Is that the only way for me to get rid of you?”
“Either that or let’s get a penthouse in the city.”
“Are those my only choices?”
Ben stood, took his keys out of his pocket, and tossed them in the air. He caught them and thought about it. “Yeah, pretty much.”
“Fine. Buy it then. But if you don’t get the furniture with it, I can easily live with one furnished room.”
“If we don’t buy it furnished, I’ll have a decorator come in and take care of it. She’ll want your input though.”
“Don’t be too sure of that. I’ve never furnished anything in my life.”
Two weeks later, Ben watched as Gina stared at her suitcases lying on the same king-sized mahogany sleigh bed they’d sat on while Ben railroaded her into buying this mansion. He knew exactly what he’d done at the time and he didn’t regret it. He’d even compromised; a penthouse in the city would have looked better for him and would have been a much better investment for her, but for some reason Gina insisted on Brooklyn. She still looked unhappy, not that he could figure out why. After all, he’d caved in and bought the place in Brooklyn, and was even able to get it furnished. For someone who supposedly had a great mind for finance, she certainly hadn’t used it while making this decision.
Ben stood in the doorway watching Gina. It was becoming a habit. He couldn’t help it. The woman fascinated him. Most women he knew would be thrilled to be stuck living in a mansion. Not Gina. He wasn’t sure if his interest was simply because of her obstinacy or in spite of it. The fact he studied her didn’t surprise him. He seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at his wife, and when they weren’t together, he was thinking about her. No matter what he did, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He was just glad he was heading west in a few hours. Maybe if he put most of the country between them, he’d have better luck getting her out of his mind.
“You look good here, Gina.”
She laughed. “Oh, yeah. I look as if I were born to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Robin Leach and me. All we’re missing is the champagne.”
“Now that you mention it, Jess sent over a very nice bottle. It’s chilling in the refrigerator if you’d like some.”
“Ben, it’s not even noon.”
He smirked. “We could throw in a few drops of orange juice and call it a mimosa, if drinking champagne at ten in the morning offends you.”
“No, it doesn’t offend me, though I’d rather have a Starbucks,” she muttered before she looked up. “Did you buy glasses too, or do we have to drink it out of plastic cups?”
“The kitchen is fully stocked. I think you could probably have a dinner party for a hundred and not have to deal with renting a thing.”
“Oh, good. And to think, I was worried about that.” She unzipped one of her suitcases. “I do so love to entertain.”