Fake Fiance, Real Revenge

By: Roxanne Snopek

Conversation in the room ebbed, as it always seemed to do at the absolute worst moments. All heads turned to Della, who stood blinking in confusion.

Paris looked as if she wanted to disappear.

Finally Della clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re a dark horse, aren’t you, Mitchell Granger? Keeping this under wraps? And here I’ve been thinking of what lovely babies you and Paris would make. Where’ve you been hiding this girl? You should have brought her tonight!”

“She’s…” His relief vanished. He had to make this convincing. “She’s in Montana.”

Really, Mitch? Way to limit your pool of possibilities. A fiancée in Fiji. Now that would have been convenient. And difficult to disprove.

Where, he wondered, would one go about finding a mail-order bride? Was there even still such a thing?

“Ah, yes, your hometown. Lutherton, is it?”

He should have expected Della to look him up. He hadn’t offered many details about his past, but that wouldn’t stop a woman like her. Memories flooded in, wounds he’d long ago vanquished—or thought he had.

You see, Mitch? You did it again. Another stupid, impulsive idea. He hadn’t heard that voice for years. Perspiration broke out on his back. You don’t stop to think and this is what you get. Stupid, stupid boy.

“We’re, uh.” Mitch swallowed, wiping the back of his neck. He wasn’t that boy anymore. He was a success. Supported by his non-Fijian fiancée. Who had no name. “We’re taking it slow.”

Instantly the years fell away and Sabrina’s face popped into his head.

No way, Mitch. You are not going there.

Poof! His sultry Fijian fantasy lover vanished in a swirl of thick, honey-colored hair. Sabrina’s hair, which always fell straight and heavy, halfway down her back. Her clear blue-gray eyes that had seen beyond the dyslexic, angry boy, failed by the school system. She was one of the smart kids, and her tutoring had gotten him through final exams. He wouldn’t have graduated without her.

He wasn’t pretending to be engaged to Sabrina, no way, no how. He didn’t even know her anymore. Well, he knew she’d returned to Lutherton. He knew home and family were important to her. Which just showed how completely unsuited they were for each other. Despite what they’d once thought.

Taking it slow? They hadn’t taken anything slow back then.

For almost two years, they’d been in love. Secretly at first. Her family would have never accepted the rebellious loser he’d been then. They’d have happily embraced his younger brother, Carson, though—the smart son. The good one. Even now, Mitch tasted the sourness at the back of his throat. Carson had always had it so easy and now, he even had Three River Ranch, the family home. Plus a wife and a kid.

Della nudged him with her elbow. “Everyone loves a love story, dear. You should have told me!”

A crowd was gathering. Mitch felt heat rise along his neck.

“It just never occurred to me. I didn’t think it was pertinent to our professional relationship.” He heard the stiffness in his words. Damn. He was screwing this up.

“I don’t give a hoot for ‘professional’ and you know it. My late husband ran things that way, everything at arm’s length, lawyered up the wazoo, all crossed and dotted and signed in triplicate. Nothing wrong with that, but I think you ought to know someone before getting into bed with him, so to speak.”

She took Mitch by the arm and led him to the bar. “Get this man a couple of fingers of single malt, will you? What the heck, get me one too, while you’re at it.”

Mitch lifted his glass in a toast, wondering how he could get Della back onto the subject of her prospective business plans.

And away from his “fiancée.” The scotch seared his throat but did nothing to ease his growing panic. He could have just taken Paris out a few times, been the sophisticated date she needed to polish up her social persona.

But no, sneered the voice. You had to come up with this awesome lie instead.

“I apologize, Della,” he said, striving for the right tone. “It never occurred to me that you’d be interested. My situation with…my fiancée… We have a complicated relationship.”

That was putting it mildly. Since she didn’t exist.

“I’ve been married four times, you dolt. Of course I’m interested.” But her light tone belied the sharpness in her eyes. “Mitchell, sweetheart, pull that big old stick of firewood out into the sunshine, will you? Relax. That thirty-year-old glass of peat isn’t going to drink itself, now is it? I didn’t mean to insult you or impugn your integrity.” She winked at him. “Isn’t that a great word? Impugn? My second husband was a medieval scholar. Oh, the things that man taught me.”

The prawn canapés squirmed in his stomach. “No offense taken.”

“So gallant! And such a liar!” She laughed gaily. He could see the gold fillings in her back molars. “But you’re determined to put on a good show and I respect that. You’re ambitious, driven. Good boy.”

He clenched the glass until his knuckles whitened. “What do you want, Della?”

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