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A FAKE CHRISTMAS CRUSH
What if your crush asked you to be his fake wife? Would you say Yes?
And if you say Yes, what happens when your crush on him turns to love?
Penny Carson expected her Christmas holidays would include the final preparations for the launch of her new business, and dinners with family and friends. What she hadn’t expected was to become the fake wife of her crush, billionaire Simon Hollis. But when he needs help and pleads with her, how is she supposed to say no?
She’s smart, down to earth, and all business. She can handle it. Oh sure, he may be the man of her dreams, but losing her head or her heart won’t happen, can’t happen. It’s all fake.
It’s all make believe.
Author’s Note: There’s a little kissing, a few swear words, and a lot of snark… Have Fun!
READ AN EXCERPT
“Are you all right? Please say something, Penn.”
It was a logical question and one that deserved an answer. After all, it wasn’t often the man you have a crush on pops the question.
“I’m fine. I just… I need a minute.” Offering a shaky smile, I stood and peered out the window at the Atlanta skyline. Even in the middle of it, there was always more. More buildings being built. More people hustling and bustling. Especially now, during Christmas.
Over my shoulder, I glanced at Simon who was still sitting behind his desk, looking as though it was a normal day. Maybe for him, it was. Not that I expected he often asked women to marry him.
The charcoal suit he wore matched the dark skies outside and blended in with the dark metal of his office furnishings. But his eyes, blue and striking, stood out.
His eyes caught my attention the first time we met several years ago, then his smile mesmerized me. I hadn’t been able to shake the attraction.
“I don’t know what to say.” Turning to face him, I leaned against the window frame. “We don’t even know each other.” At best, it was a weak argument.
“We know each other enough and through this, we’ll be able to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know.”
“Why not you?” he countered. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but I picked you because I trust you. I trust your brother. There’s no one else I’d rather be fake married to than you.”
When he put it like that…? It’s not as if a fake marriage arrangement with the Simon Hollis would be a hardship. He was handsome, always had a smile on his face, even if it sometimes seemed forced.
“Did he put you up to this?”
“No. Not even a little bit.”
“Can you tell me again why you want to do this?”
“Sure.” He linked his hands, and business-like Simon took over. “There’s a condition in my mother’s will about ownership of Hollis Enterprises, me, and marriage. It’s about proving to the board that I can handle the responsibility of taking over the company should the current President and CEO resign or retire before I turn forty.”
“That’s a bit old fashioned. The marriage part, at least.”
“Yes, but that’s what she wanted. These are family men. They equate family with stability, and stability with being responsible.”
“Then they haven’t been paying attention to the right things.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I snapped my lips shut and shook my head, embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” I softly said. I took a seat again. “While I appreciate being asked, I don’t know that we can pull off a fake marriage, Simon. It would be a lot of work, a lot of time spent together, and we’re both busy people.” Okay, so that last bit sounded lame, even to my ears. It was true, but still lame.
Did he? Because he didn’t look like he agreed. He looked like he was contemplating something. “Is that your only objection? That you’re not sure we can pull it off?”
“Along with what I said about time and being busy.”
“Right. But that’s all?”
“Yes.” What was he getting at? “What else would there be?”
“An objection to being married to me.” He did the whole thing finger quote thing around the word married and I couldn’t hide a smile.
Even though we didn’t know each other all that well, I couldn’t imagine being married to him would be much of a hardship. But truth was, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I didn’t know if I could convince a group of total strangers that we were married.
My crush on Simon Hollis had never been more than that. A simple crush on my big brother’s best friend. They were an unlikely pair. One from a very privileged background who was rumored to have recently topped the billion dollar mark in personal wealth. And one from a working class background. Simon had never looked down on my brother for not having money or social connections and that gave him credibility. He was a good guy who liked to laugh, who was kind and down to earth.
Stephen, my brother, started working for Hollis Enterprises after college and every so often, Simon would invite us to spend vacation time with him. It was what friends did and I never thought anything of it. Simon didn’t have family and Stephen felt bad when Simon was alone for holidays.
And I thought my crush would fade or disappear at some point.
I thought wrong.
When we spent the week of Thanksgiving with him last month, I realized my crush on him was as strong as ever.
Did he know? It was a question I asked myself sometimes. Like, when I’d see him at my brother’s house, or when I’d visit my brother at work, Simon always made it a point to talk to me. He’d walk me back down to the parking garage. He’d join Stephen and me for lunch. And each time I left, I found my crush on him had grown.
“What can I do?”
“To convince you.”
“Penn…” He matched my tone. “What can I do? Anything. Just name it.”
Penn. My nickname. Everyone called me Penn, but the way Simon said it did funny things to my belly and my heart.
“Retract the offer?” For all my objections so far, which weren’t many, I hadn’t come out and straight up said no. And if he didn’t take it back, I wasn’t sure I could say no. Not when I’d always hoped he had a tiny crush on me, too.
“Other than that. What do you need from me? How can I convince you I need this? I need your help for this. Please.”
If he only knew. “What if people find out that it’s not real?”
“I’ll handle it.”
“I don’t know, but I will.”
“You really are desperate, aren’t you?”
“I prefer not to think of it as desperate, but rather, determined.”
“And you’re willing to play along with whatever they want you to do.”
“This was my mother’s company and she left it to me, with provisions. Some changes are taking place after the first of the year and I need to make an impression now. Please, Penn. There’s no one else in my life I could think of for this, who I would trust with this, except you.”
Well, when he put it that way…
No needed to be my answer. This was a bad idea. For so many reasons. Turning him down was the only smart thing to do. “Okay,” I offered, grudgingly. “Yes.”
His smile blinded me, and his relief echoed through the room. “You won’t regret it.”
I already did. Maybe. “When do we start? And for long?”
“We start today and through Christmas. I will take care of any and all expenses associated with this arrangement. I will also make a few calls and get us into a studio for some wedding photos. Discreetly, of course. It would be a good idea to have one on my desk so anyone who comes in will see it.”
“Wedding pictures? As in tuxedo and wedding gown?” I almost choked on the words. “And if you were worried about being discreet, you might should have closed the office door.”
He flushed and his eyes flashed over my shoulder. “Good point. Lucky for us, everyone is out to lunch. “I’ll also send a couple guys over to help you move whatever you think you’ll need for the next couple of weeks.”
“Move? You want me to move in with you?” Breathe, woman. Breathe.
“We can’t live in separate places, Penn.”
“Why not?” I knew why not, but why not? Living with Simon… Living in such close proximity to him all the time… I couldn’t.
“This needs this to look authentic and real.”
Authentic and real. Got it. “Then why didn’t you invite them to our wedding?”
“What? We didn’t have…” His words trailed off, his expression one of confusion until… “Oh. Good question. Let me think about that one.”
“They weren’t invited because you got married in a small, intimate ceremony at the county courthouse in the Hamptons. When you saw her last month, you realized you were in love with and couldn’t let her get away,” my brother said from behind me.
My eyes widened and I turned to find Stephen standing in the doorway. The open one I’d just warned Simon about. Stephen offered a shrug and a wink.
“That’s fantastic,” Simon said. “Small, spur of the moment. A whirlwind.”
With a sigh, I slumped in my seat. “Yeah, fantastic.”
Stephen ruffled my hair as he took the chair next to me. “How’s it going?”
“You put this particular bug in his ear, didn’t you?” I accused him in a hiss. “It has your fingerprints all over it.” My vengeance on my brother would be nothing less than a whirlwind.
“What?” He feigned innocence. “Can’t a guy want to see his two favorite people fall in love?”
“Don’t even. I’ll get you back for this,” I promised him.
“There’s nothing to get me back for. I didn’t do anything other than overhear the conversation.”
“You were eavesdropping?”
“Yes.” Another retort was on the tip of my tongue, but another voice interrupted us.
Stephen and I looked to see who’d joined in. When Stephen saw the man, he stood, straightening his suit jacket.
“Henry. Please come in.”
Simon rounded his desk and touched my shoulder. Was that a signal? Was I supposed to stand, too? We would need to work on hand gestures and touches.
I got to my feet, and Simon took my hand in his. Warmth slid up my arm and across my chest to my heart. He gave me strength, courage. I wasn’t alone in this.
“I’ve just returned from lunch and wanted to catch you before this afternoon’s board meeting.”
“I’m happy you stopped by. Henry, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Penny. Sweetheart, this is the President and CEO of Hollis Enterprises, Henry Tyler.”
“Wife?” The surprise in the man’s voice matched what I was feeling inside at the use of the word. “I didn’t know you’d gotten married. When did this happen?”
“It was a whirlwind romance, sir. You’re the first person to meet her.”
The older man looked skeptical with his brows drawn down and a slight frown on his face had replaced the surprise from moments ago.
Stephen didn’t jump in to help. Simon said nothing more, so it was time for me to begin my acting career.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tyler.” I smiled and reached out my hand which he clasped after a brief hesitation. He didn’t let go. “And it wasn’t such a whirlwind. Don’t let him fool you. This is all my doing.”
“Oh? How so? I’m intrigued.”
“I took a leap of faith at Thanksgiving this year, and he said yes. I didn’t give him a chance to think twice about it and rushed him to the courthouse as soon as it opened.”
“You took a leap of faith? He said yes.” Henry echoed my words back to me. “Do you mean to say you proposed to him?”
“I did.” Maybe I wasn’t so bad at this. “Times are changing, and I was tired of wondering if he felt the same. Crushes can be so difficult to interpret.”
“My, my… Congratulations are in order, then.”
“Thank you.” Simon and I said at the same time.
“But why didn’t you say something before, Simon?”
“I planned to wait and surprise everyone at the Christmas party.”
“I don’t see a ring on her finger.” He gave Simon a pointed look.
“Rings were an afterthought.” I drew his attention back to me. “I tried to pick one when we got back to town. He said he let me get away with proposing, but wouldn’t let me get away with picking my own ring.”
Henry Tyler chuckled and some of the tension in my shoulders eased. I squeezed his hand, then pulled mine away.
“Well, you just make sure he picks out the biggest and best ring for you.”
“Don’t worry. He knows what to get me, don’t you?” I winked at Simon, who didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m meeting with a jeweler for a private showing in an hour.”
“Newlyweds,” Mr. Tyler exclaimed. “This place hasn’t had newlyweds in a while. It’s such a wonderful time of year full of hope and for planning what the future will bring. Children, yes?”
“One step at a time, sir.”
That was as good a sign as any it was time for me to go. “I hate to cut this short, but I have a business lunch and don’t want to be late.”
“Oh? What do you do, Penny?” Mr. Tyler asked as he glanced from the top of my head down to my toes. Of everyone standing in Simon’s office, I was the only one in jeans, boots, and a sweater. Simon, Stephen, and Mr. Tyler all wore top of the line suits.
“My best friend and I are opening a storefront for our online business.”
“What type of business are you in?”
“Retail crafts. Yarn and needlecrafts. We called it Hooked On.”
“Hooked On. That’s catchy. My wife would love it. You must introduce yourself to her at the company Christmas party. You will be there, won’t you? She will be there, won’t she, Simon?”
“Yes, sir. We’ll be there.”
“Excellent. In the meantime, Penny, if there’s anything we can do here at Hollis to help you along, be sure to let Simon know.”
“Thank you. I will.” I stood on my toes and kissed Simon’s cheek, waved to my brother and walked out of the office without another word.
Publisher: Ella Claire
Length: 165 pages
Published: July 25, 2019
Genre: Sweet Romantic Comedy, Holiday Romance
Cover Artist: Blackraven’s Designs