Fake Fiance, Real Revenge

By: Roxanne Snopek

Gradually, as he watched the stars come out and listened to the susurrations of waves, Mitch felt himself settle. He’d go back to Della’s party, smile until his cheeks hurt, flirt as much as his stomach could handle, and finally, once he’d jumped through all her hoops, Della would reward him with the contract that would make Granger-Ellis the foremost property development company in the Pacific Northwest. His partner, Jon Ellis, was counting on him to land this deal.

Creating Della’s to-be-determined destination resort would make Mitchell Granger—persona non grata in his hometown of Lutherton, Montana—the talk of the industry. They’d write about him in business magazines. Invitations to parties like this would flood in, and he’d be able to ignore them if he wanted. He’d have his pick of clients.

So for all that, he could handle a bit more of Della Fontaine, he assured himself. Reluctantly, he braced himself to reenter the phony cacophony.

“There’s my boy!” Della called. She trundled to his side, reaching one beringed hand out to grasp his sleeve. “Mitchell! Come with me. I have someone I want you to meet!”

Mitch pasted a smile on his face and prepared for another hungry female.

Instead, he found himself looking down at a sweet-faced, golden-haired girl who looked as if she felt as under attack as he did. Her pupils were so wide, her blue eyes looked almost black, and her tremulous smile did not reach them. She looked twenty, maybe twenty-two.

“My stepdaughter, Paris.” Della gave the girl a little shove. Paris stumbled against him as she took his hand.

“I’m so sorry—”

“Nice to meet—”

She blushed as she apologized, then swallowed, a blue vein pulsing visibly in her slender throat. This child was a baby bunny in the nest of a velociraptor.

“Isn’t she lovely?” Della crowed, as if the girl wasn’t there. “I think the two of you will hit it off. And why not? She’s single, you’re single. You’ll thank me for this, Mitchell.”

In the space of a second, three truths snapped into focus for Mitch. First, Della, stepmother and guardian of this shy young woman, intended for him to take Paris off her hands. Second, lovely as she was, Paris held zero appeal for him. None of these society women did and never would. And third, rejecting Della’s stepdaughter would be career suicide.

After that, Mitch’s brain clicked into autopilot, pure survival mode. He had no other explanation for his response.

“Paris,” he said, lifting her hand to his lips. “I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“Me, too.” The girl blushed again and shot an anxious look at Della.

“I’ve no doubt we will be friends,” Mitch continued, then added a wistful smile for effect. “But I’m afraid anything more might be a problem for my fiancée.”

The Birth on Earth Maternal Health Care Clinic of Lutherton, Montana, needed thicker walls, Sabrina Becker thought as she listened to the groans of the young woman in front of her. It was one thing to embrace natural childbirth in all its vivid reality; it was another to have the soundtrack playing on full volume for the wide-eyed prospective parents in the next room.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the young father’s eyes roll back in his head.

She leaped to his side just in time to keep him from breaking his skull when he fell. “Oh no, you don’t!” As it was, he’d have a goose egg to commemorate the birth of his first child. Well, she had no time to worry about him.

“Come on, Daddy, buck up. Mama needs you.” Sabrina eased him into a sitting position on the floor, against the wall of the birthing room. “Press your forehead to your knees.”

“I…I’m okay,” he mumbled.

“Of course you are.” Sabrina gripped his chin gently, assessing his pallor and unfocused gaze, then pushed his face down again. “Stay here for a sec, okay? I’m kind of occupied at the moment.”

Another cry from the mat on the floor. “I think my water just broke!”

Sabrina grabbed a towel. “Almost there now. You’re doing fine, Jenny!”

She could remember the mom’s name. But the dad’s? Gone like self-control at an ice-cream bar.

Focus, Sabrina! You can sleep later!

Her assistant, Daphne, was wrapping up the prenatal class and then she could look after Dad. Until the next call, at least. Sabrina was thrilled that word of mouth was making her center the place to go for uncomplicated natural childbirth care. But she’d been up for two nights running now. She needed a nap. She needed more staff. And she needed more space.

She needed a fairy godmother.

The about-to-be-new-dad groaned from the floor. “Did I…pass out?”

“Swooned like a medieval maid,” Sabrina said. Surely he could manage to sit upright while his wife pushed out their child. “Come on, Daddy, coffee break’s over. Hold her hand. Talk to her. Hey! Look at me! Can you handle it?”

He nodded, and then rolled onto his knees next to his wife.

“Oh God, I can’t do this!” the mother-to-be cried. “Make it stop, Sabrina, make it stop!”

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