What kind of moron pretends to be broke then makes the girl pay for his expensive drink and his Uber home?
And what kind of idiot marries a tool like that?
Oh right, me, that’s who.
You’d think that with living with a foul-mouthed parrot and a grandmother who makes candles that smell like her vag, I would have enough drama in my life.
But when my wedding planning firm organizes four marriages at first sight, I found myself at the altar pledging my eternal hatred to Mr. I Think Women Are Gold Diggers And I’m Going To Be Obnoxious Until I Set You Off And Make You Prove It.
We are not compatible. (SHOCKING!)
Chris Winchester is a billionaire with serious trust issues, and I am a photographer trying to survive in the world of high-end weddings.
And the billionaire’s penthouse is about to be Marriage and a Murder if he doesn’t stop hitting his snooze button a thousand bazillion times in the morning while I’m trying to work and get my life back on track. *Grrrr!*
I storm into his bedroom to give him a piece of my mind and destroy that stupid alarm clock…
And of course, he’s not wearing anything except a tiny corner of his high thread count sheets.
So I might have had a peek at that muscular chest, washboard abs, and the barely-covered bulge.
Apparently, I am the proud owner of a hot AF husband. Who knew?
But I will not have the full marriage experience.
Love makes a marriage, not hate.
But when Chris says in that deep voice,
“Hate sex makes great sex.”
That might be the first thing in the marriage we agree on!
This standalone, full-length, fun romantic comedy has no cliffhangers but does have an uber-swoony HEA! This book has tons of STEAM, a billionaire with a snooze button addiction, a fantastic set of friends, and a heroine who has had it up to her sweetheart neckline with wedding drama.
This is a double opt in form, so check your inbox for the email asking you to confirm your subscription.
Crazy antics, action packed drama, intense chemistry, fun and quirky characters, and sweet HEA! –ShannaD, Amazon
Grace and Chris will definitely set your Kindle on fire. –BP34, Goodreads
Quirky, humorous and vastly entertaining. –Dee, Amazon
This mood lifting, laugh out loud romance gives you quirky characters that steal your heart and a romance that will have you smirking and swooning. –Gladys, Goodreads
So many times I seriously LAUGHED OUT LOUD! The candles!! The parrot! OMG!! –Patti, Amazon
“We are lowering our expectations. Lowering. Them. Very low.”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose under my glasses. My date was late.
I should have been home working on the three thousand wedding photo edits requested by my latest bridezilla, yet here I was, in a generic hipster bar, waiting on some guy named Chris to bless me with his presence.
Grace: I’m leaving if he’s not here in thirty seconds.
Ivy: Don’t give up! He could be your Prince Charming!
Elsie: Not if he’s late.
Grace: Thank you!!!
Sophie: Remember, we’re lowering our expectations! You are almost thirty, and you haven’t been on a date in three years. Clock is ticking!
Grace: I don’t think this is going to work for me.
Ivy: He just needs to be able to get it up. This is you dipping a toe back in the dating and sex pool.
Brea: She needs to dive in headfirst!
Sophie: Technically, the guy really needs to do that.
Grace: I’m having second thoughts about allowing a stranger’s mouth down there.
Amy: But sex is nice!
Brea: Very nice!
Sex would be nice. I would give Chris two more minutes, but then I really needed to do some work.
As a photographer for the weddings of Manhattan’s rich and entitled, I had attended record numbers of magical, high-society weddings. Even though some—okay, many of the brides—could be full-blown bridezillas, I still loved going to weddings, engagement parties, and bridal showers. I loved the fairy tale, hearing about how the happy couple met and capturing the moment when they whispered, “I do.” Part of the fun was living vicariously through the couple’s romance, but lately I’d been wanting one of my own.
I had fantasized about the perfect guy watching me from across the room of a super-posh bar. He would catch my eye and saunter over—crisp suit, French cuffs, no indoor sunglasses, two specialty cocktails in hand—sit down next to me, and say something witty.
Lowering our expectations.
Instead there was Chris. He was the least douchey of the men I had met on the dating app I had downloaded. I had my choice of Chris, the guy who wanted to smell my feet, or one of the three hundred bots that had messaged me asking for iTunes gift cards or plane tickets to bring their grandmother’s hairdresser’s sick daughter to America.
I checked the time on my phone. The two minutes were up.
Chris was not going to show. In fact, I would bet my DSLR camera that he’d never had any intention of coming.
I tried to signal to the server to pay for my drink. But instead of a waiter bringing me the check, toward my table walked a spaced-out-looking guy in a raggedy sweater, scruffy boots, and—I cringed—sunglasses.
Yeah, that is not going to work for me.
I shrank down in my seat.
“Grace Fulton?” the guy asked. Deep voice, messy hair—he was effortless in that way handsome men often were.
At least his nails are clean.
Um…we are not sleeping with him.
I sat back up and slapped on my best customer-service persona, the one that dealt with crazy brides who were on week five of a sixty-day lemon water, kale, and stress diet.
“That’s me.” I gave a little wave.
Chris slid into the seat in front of me. His sweater was green and yellow and had llamas on it.
“I forgot my wallet,” he said. “So do you mind buying a drink for me?”
But then Chris took off his sunglasses and grinned at me. It was this lazy, sexy smile, complete with deep-blue eyes.
“Please?” He shifted in his seat. There was muscle under that gawd-awful sweater.
Okay, so he’s not the love of your life, I reasoned with myself. Sleep with him, climb back on the dating horse, then move on. One drink is cheaper than an escort.
“Sure!” I chirped, still channeling my inner wedding photographer. “Have whatever you’d like!”
“Really?” His eyes widened, and his smile grew bigger. He had a dimple in his left cheek. I did have a thing for dimples.
Chris rolled up a sleeve and reached for a menu. The tendons and muscle on his forearm rippled enticingly.
Yes, it had been a long time.
Ivy put condoms in your purse.
“No problem.” I leaned forward, hoping I seemed flirty and not creepy. “You can make it up to me later.”
His blue eyes flicked from mine to my mouth.
We’re getting laid tonight! my inner sex goddess cheered.
I admired his strong jaw as he ordered two fingers of extremely expensive scotch.
The cheering of my inner sex goddess faded out as I mentally calculated whether or not my almost-maxed-out credit card would be able to handle that drink order.
“Is that okay?” Chris asked me, resting his chin on his hand. He posed like a model. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
The cheering was back.
“Sure,” I croaked out. I took a gulp of my drink and ended up dribbling some of it down my chin.
“So,” I said, wiping it away, “what do you do?”
“Oh.” Chris looked away. “Not much.”
“Like temp work?”
Chris shrugged. “I’m currently finding myself.”
Unemployed, possibly homeless.
We are lowering our standards…
The server brought Chris’s drink. He regarded it, his profile worthy of a luxury brand ad—straight nose, those cheekbones with his eyelashes slightly brushing them.
“You do wedding photography?” Chris asked.
“Yep. I love weddings! But I also photograph all the events leading up. Then I create a scrapbook for the bride documenting the whole journey. It’s part of the full-service package that my company, Weddings in the City, offers our brides who want the once-in-a-lifetime wedding experience.”
Chris rolled his eyes and took a hard swallow of his scotch.
“Weddings are such bullshit. Honestly, all that money, and for what?”
“A lot of our brides are entrepreneurs, or have other high-paid positions. If they want to treat themselves and their families with their hard-earned money, then what’s the problem?” I asked sharply.
My date shrugged and took another sip of his drink. “I just think it’s disingenuous. I bet they don’t even love their husbands-to-be.”
“They are very much in love,” I insisted then wavered, remembering a few of the weddings I’d photographed lately. “For the most part. But hey, who doesn’t like a party?”
“You’re pretty high up on your moral high ground, mister, for someone who’s drinking a scotch I paid for,” I reminded him.
Chris grinned at me. “And I told you I’d make it up to you.”
The Uber pulled up in front of the address Chris had given me after I’d settled the tab at the bar. Normally I was pretty thrifty and would have taken the subway, but it would have been a long ride, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be alone with Chris for that amount of time. As it was, being in the back seat of the Uber was a lot. He smelled so freaking fantastic—sharp and masculine, with a hint of juniper.
“You live here?” I asked uncertainly as the Uber pulled away, leaving us standing in front of an honest-to-goodness tenement house. Chris heaved his shoulder against the metal front door, and I followed him up the narrow staircase, heart pounding.
Maybe this is it. He’s a serial killer, and I’m going to end up chained in a basement.
“Welcome to my home,” he said, opening a door to an apartment on the eighth floor.
I was breathing hard after walking up all those stairs and tried not to be too obvious as I wheezed for breath.
You need to cut back on the chili cheese fries.
“This is cozy,” I said charitably, trying to pull myself together, and looked around. It was dingy and tiny.
“It’s crowded when all my roommates are here,” Chris said cheerfully, heading over to a window and pulling open the blinds.
“Killer view though,” I said. “My apartment has a view of a cinderblock wall.”
“Put up some mirrors,” Chris suggested.
“No, like it’s literally a wall two inches from my window. Someone goofed when they were building the apartment next door.” I rested my elbows on the windowsill and peered out over the skyline. “I wish I had this view.”
“This doesn’t bother you?” Chris asked me, head slightly tilted.
He shrugged. “Everything? I have no money, live in a crappy place, you had to buy my drinks—”
I gave him a wry smile. “I think escorts who look like you probably go for like five hundred dollars a night at least.”
“So you just want to sleep with me.”
“I mean, yeah?” I said. “It’s not like we’re getting married or anything.”
“Why, because I don’t have any money?” Chris demanded.
Aaaand of course this guy is nuts.
Just keep him calm.
I started edging slowly toward the door, turning up my customer-service persona to a thousand. Chris was the bride’s elderly doddering aunt who wanted to know why she was seated next to the cousin that had stolen their grandmother’s prized ashtray. And I had to talk her down from going after the woman with a fish knife.
“It’s not about the money,” I said soothingly. “We don’t even know each other. Though I’d totally like to!”
“You seem like a great guy who likes the simple life. I appreciate that.”
Chris visibly relaxed as I took another shuffle toward the door.
“Good,” he said and nodded to himself. “You’ll do great.”
I took another shuffle.
Chris removed his sweater.
I paused mid shuffle to drool at the washboard abs, the bulging biceps, and the pecs that I wanted to run my hands over.
“I have condoms in my purse,” I blurted out as he undid his pants.
He gave me that sexy grin.
“I have something better than a hookup.” He threw the pants on the floor.
He might not have been thinking about sex, but I sure was. This was the closest I’d been to a naked man since a July wedding where the bride had insisted on a life-sized ice sculpture of a nearly nude Chris Hemsworth as her centerpiece.
I made a strangled noise. “Better than sex?”
Chris took two steps across the tiny room to wrap an arm around my waist and guide me to the window.
“See that building?” he asked, breath hot in my ear.
Crap, I wanted him.
“The pizza place?”
“No, the tower, the big one—all glass and lights with the sweet penthouse on top,” he said, deep voice reverberating through my chest.
“I own that.”
I felt his lips brush my ear as he smiled.
Chris laughed and stepped away from me.
“You don’t believe me,” he stated.
“Dude, I just wanted to hook up with you. I have like a thousand pictures to edit. Are you game or not?”
“You get right to the point. I like that.” He walked over to the rickety wardrobe in the corner of the room and opened it. I expected it to be bursting with stuff, but it only held a very nice suit, imported Italian leather shoes, and a crisp white shirt laid out neatly.
Chris pulled on an undershirt then the starched dress shirt.
“I own it for real. I also own this building, of course,” he said as he pulled the pants on, “but it’s not nearly as impressive.”
And people say women are complicated. All I want to do is get laid, and this guy is a ball of insecurity and clearly some flavor of mentally ill.
“Grace, seriously, I’m a billionaire. I run a hedge fund,” he continued, wrapping a silk tie around his neck.
“Then why do you live here?” I blurted out, still not believing what was happening.
Chris chuckled. “I wanted to make sure you weren’t a gold digger. I appreciated that you run your own business and work hard. I don’t want some woman in my life who’s just going to mooch off my money.” He fastened his cuff links then pulled on his jacket. Then he combed back his hair in the mirror.
“It was a test,” he said to my reflection. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t just want me for my money. Which you don’t. So it’s perfect!” He turned around to fasten on his wrist a watch that cost more than the building we were in. “You passed! Congratulations! You can now date me.”
“You still don’t believe me?” He took a magazine out of the wardrobe and flipped to a page.
I peered at it. Chris Winchester. Hedge fund wunderkind. Net worth three billion.
He wrapped an arm around my waist. “There’s a limo waiting downstairs. I have dinner for us planned at a restaurant at the top of another tower I own.”
I threw him off and screamed, “You lying sack of shit!”
I jerked back.
Grace was furious! Her glasses had slid down her nose, and she was a ball of indignation.
“Why are you mad at me?” I exclaimed. “I said you passed the test!”
“I took off work for this garbage,” she snarled. “I have five brides waiting for their pictures, and you are wasting my time with mind games.”
“I have a right to make sure that you’re not a gold digger,” I said, annoyed that she wasn’t ecstatic that she had passed my test.
“And I have a right,” she said, jabbing a finger at me, “to tell you that you’re a sorry little man-child.”
She threw the magazine at me.
“I’m a billionaire!” I picked up the magazine. “See? It says it right here. I’m the next biggest thing.”
Grace didn’t care. Instead she turned and stomped out of the apartment.
I ran after her, trailing her down the stairs.
“Any other woman in Manhattan would be jumping at the chance to date me,” I informed her.
She stopped abruptly on the landing. “I will never date you, Chris Winchester, and I pity the woman who ends up married to you.” She hurried down the rest of the stairs. The limo driver opened the door as Grace hurried past him on the sidewalk.
“We have champagne and—”
“Use it to drown Chris with,” she snapped at him.
“Grace!” I ran after her and reached for her.
She whirled around, key ring jangling, brandishing a pink canister of pepper spray at me.
“Stop following me,” she said loudly, waving the canister in my direction.
“Jeez, I was just trying to do something nice for you.”
“Fuck you.” She stomped off down the street to the subway.
“So how was your date?” Boris asked me when I returned to the limo.
“I thought it went great. Apparently not.”
“And she just left?” Josh Svensson asked me the next evening at our weekly poker tournament. I was losing. Probably because I was playing with three Svensson brothers and I was sure they were all conspiring against me.
“Can you believe it?” I said, still annoyed. “I purposely bought that hovel because it had the perfect view of my tower. I had a limo waiting with champagne and a nice dinner planned. She went home and worked instead of staying with me.”
“She went to work? It doesn’t sound like you two are compatible at all,” Liam Svensson said.
“I work!” I scoffed.
“Barely. What time did you get up this afternoon? Two?” Josh teased.
“Twelve. But I went to bed late. Grace threw me off my sleep schedule. Damn it, I can’t believe she turned me down. No one turns me down! And it was so obvious she wanted to sleep with me, too.”
“Didn’t get laid and got told off,” Eric said with a laugh.
“At least he wasn’t pepper-sprayed. Raise,” Josh said.
“Shit.” I put more chips in the center of the table. The Svenssons’ older brother Greg had threatened them with disownment and grievous bodily harm if they gambled with money, so instead we gambled with dares.
The last time I’d won, I had made Eric stand outside of Jennifer Aniston’s New York house and serenade her with a Gregorian chant complete with the whole monk getup. Now he was winning, and I knew he was gunning for me.
“Just show up at her apartment, apologize, and ask her for pity sex,” Liam suggested.
“He’s looking for a wife, not a hookup,” Eric remarked.
“No, I’m not!”
“Then you would have just hooked up with her in the hovel,” Eric retorted. “Admit it. You’re ready to settle down.”
“I don’t want a gold digger, and all women who want to get married fit that bill,” I said, glaring at my card hand. “I just want someone to hang out with regularly. I need a roommate you have sex with.”
“So a wife.” Josh snickered.
“Cards on the table,” Liam said.
I swore as I looked at everyone’s hand. “I lost. Fuck.”
“You should have folded,” Eric told me and swept up the chips.
“I was distracted. I had a hard night.”
“Maybe Eric will go easy on you.” Liam patted me on the shoulder.
“As if!” Eric said with a snort. He put his briefcase on the table.
“You had this planned. I knew you all were cheating!” I yelled.
“What? Never. Svenssons don’t cheat.”
I snorted and crossed my arms.
“But it’s good that you lost because I have the perfect dare for you,” Eric said with an eat-shit grin.
His brother Josh was practically bouncing in his seat.
“I don’t think I’m going to like this,” I said with a sigh.
“But you’re getting married!”
“What the hell?” I jumped out of my seat. “No!”
“It’s not real marriage,” Eric explained, setting several papers down in front of me. One was a casting advertisement for Marriage in a Minute.
“’Meet your life partner’,” I read out. “No way. You know how I feel about marriage.”
“Look,” Eric said in exasperation. “One of my younger little brothers signed up to be on the show. Greg found out about it and flipped his shit. He was mad at me because he thinks I broke his coffee maker. It was Archer, but of course Greg wouldn’t listen. So he told me I had to fill in because he didn’t trust Adrian not to get fucked over.”
“Isn’t there anything else?” I pleaded.
“Stop being such a baby. All you have to do is pretend to get married and be in a fake marriage. There are like five shoots including the fake wedding.”
“I’m going to look so stupid,” I moaned, running my hands through my hair.
“Everyone will chalk it up to you being an eccentric billionaire,” Josh said.
“Fuck all of you.”
“You have to be there tomorrow morning to do the little compatibility interview,” Eric told me as I grabbed the paperwork and stuffed it in my bag.
“Keep an open mind!” Liam said with a laugh. “Maybe one of those reality TV bimbos will be the future Mrs. Winchester!”
I gave him the finger as I slung my bag over my shoulder. “That is the last time I’m playing poker with you all.”
“You say that every time you lose!”
“That is the last time I go on a date,” I said to my friends the next morning.
“Someone didn’t get laid,” Sophie remarked.
“I have been up all night working on the photo edits that I should have been doing while I was buying alcohol and Ubers for Chris.”
“You should have let him give you the ride of your life in that limo,” Amy said with a cackle.
“I refuse to debase myself.”
“You’re wound so tight you could use a little debasing,” Brea joked.
“He lied to me,” I reminded them. “And played a horrible trick.”
“He’s a dick for sure,” Ivy agreed, shoving a bowl of chocolate Rice Krispies in front of me. “And a man-child. But you did say he was hot!”
“She can’t just forgive and forget because he’s hot,” Elsie argued.
“Of course not!” Brea added. “But it would have been a boss move to sleep with him, then be like, ‘Sorry, that sucked, I’m out of here!’ You know, really take him down a peg. You have to slap a guy like Chris in the face with a dildo for him to get the message.”
“I do not have time to play mind games with some deranged billionaire,” I said, angrily eating a spoonful of Rice Krispies.
“I need that time to work on my coffee-table book. I think it’s almost ready to start shopping around to publishers.”
“You work too hard,” Amy said, flopping back on the couch.
“Speaking of,” Sophie added, “let’s do our morning meeting before our ten o’clock arrives.”
We settled around the long reclaimed wood table in our office at the top of the Brookview Hotel.
Ivy had started Weddings in the City as a collaborative so that brides could have a one-stop shop for a beautiful, high-class wedding. She was the wedding planner. Amy, short and bubbly, created beautiful, locally grown flower arrangements. Sophie baked delicious wedding cakes decorated with her signature sculpted sugar flowers. Elsie cooked the tastiest catering ever. Brea designed and sewed one-of-a-kind, ethereal wedding dresses, and I was in charge of the wedding photography, though lately I felt more like a therapist-slash-hostage-negotiator.
The sun streamed in from the large windows surrounding our office.
“Ladies,” Ivy said, opening up her planner, “we have a new bride, Addison, who is planning a fall wedding.”
“Does she sound like another bridezilla?” Sophie asked.
Ivy grimaced. “I hesitate to label any woman a bridezilla without even having the first consultation, but Addison did stop mid phone conversation to scream at the dog groomer, so make of that what you will. On the subject of bridezillas, Grace, how are those photos for the Bruni wedding coming along? The bride called me last night. Three times.”
“She called me yesterday afternoon before my date to ask me to Photoshop the shade of her lipstick in all the photos to be slightly more pink,” I said. “I explained that it would take a while to go through all the pictures.”
The elevator dinged. A tall brunette and a man with shaggy blond hair stepped off.
“It’s time for your most important meeting of the day!” Gunnar Svensson announced.
Dana Holbrook, his business partner at Romance Creative, rolled her eyes.
“Ready to talk reality TV?” Dana asked.
“Do you want some water?” Brea offered, setting down the embroidery she had been working on while we talked.
“Do you have anything stronger?” Dana asked.
“Marriage in a Minute is filming the big wedding scene in two days, Dana,” Gunnar protested. “You have to stay sharp.”
“I cannot deal with these brides,” Dana complained.
“Welcome to our world,” I quipped.
“Speaking of!” Gunnar leaned forward. “Did you decide which of you are going to be one of the brides?”
“Excuse me?” I said in shock. “We were hired to plan the weddings for the show as part of a collaboration, not be brides.”
“Actually,” Ivy grimaced, “you missed that part of the contract negotiations. I think you were doing bridal portraits.”
“It’s a great idea!” Gunnar insisted. “Think of all the publicity if one of the Weddings in the City girls participates!”
Elsie raised an eyebrow.
“Women,” Gunnar amended. Elsie’s eyebrow went higher.
“Supreme goddesses of the universe.” Gunnar made a little bow.
“We don’t have time to be in the show,” I said, incredulous. “We’re up to our sweetheart necklines with flowers, cakes, and lace.”
“It’s just five days out of the next six weeks where you would have to pretend to be with your fake husband,” Dana cajoled.
“He’s a nice dude,” Gunnar assured me. “I roped one of my brothers to do it. There’s going to be no funny business because I’ll come after him. He doesn’t even live in New York City most of the time. You just have to show up at his condo for a few shoots, then your lives go on as normal.”
“Being on the show was in lieu of us paying to be a sponsor,” Ivy told me. “So someone needs to get fake married.”
I threw up my hands.
“Whatever. If one of you wants to be on Marriage in a Minute, that’s on you.”
“Unfortunately,” Ivy said, “I’m engaged. I can’t be on it!”
“Same,” Brea said, wiggling her fingers, the huge diamond engagement ring glittering in the sunlight.
I looked at Elsie.
“Don’t even think about it,” she warned, eyes narrowing.
“We want someone who people will like,” Gunnar said, scooting away from Elsie.
“Guess it’s Amy or Sophie,” I said.
Ivy and Brea exchanged a look. Then they smiled at me.
“But I already made the wedding dress to fit you!” Brea begged.
“I’m not getting married!” I shrieked, “Especially not to some guy I won’t meet until I’m standing at the altar!”
“It’s a fake marriage,” Dana reminded me. “This is not in any way legal. I am not getting sued.”
“I’m not getting fake married.” I crossed my arms.
“Yes, but you’re the person least likely to get caught up in the moment,” Ivy cajoled. “Besides, all you do is work. This might be a chance for you to meet some new people.”
“One of the other brides might have a hot brother,” Sophie added.
“I heard you’re trying to get a book published,” Gunnar said conspiratorially. “Once you start talking to a publisher, I will put in a good word and let them know I will be going heavy on the marketing!”
I did want to have my coffee-table book published and, more importantly, be successful.
“Fine,” I grumbled, crossing my arms. “But I’m only doing the bare minimum.”
“That is all we ask,” Ivy said, pressing her hands together.
“You’re getting married!” Amy squealed, pulling me into a hug.
“Are you sure this is a fake marriage?” I asked Gunnar as I looked over the contract.
“Totally a hundred percent fake,” he assured me as I signed the forms.
“Also, fuck your brothers.”
Gunnar laughed. “It will be fun!”
“You’re going to learn so much about yourself. We have a sex therapist and a relationship coach,” he said, ushering me out of his office and down the hall.
In a studio sat an older Black man, a pretty Indian woman, and a middle-aged blonde lady. Zane, one of the camera guys, adjusted the lights as I sat in the chair in front of them.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Chris. I am Rainbow, and these are my colleagues Priyanka and Dr. Kwame.” The older blonde woman had a hippy-dippy vibe. “We’re so happy to be with you on this life-altering journey.”
I shifted in my seat. “I’m not sure how life altering it’s really going to be, but whatever.”
“Are you ready to get married?” Priyanka asked me, her gold earrings tinkling softly.
Gunnar made a motion with his hand. I gritted my teeth.
“Of course. I am looking for the perfect woman to spend my life with.”
“And what does the perfect woman look like?” Dr. Kwame asked.
My thoughts wandered to Grace.
Guess I blew that shot.
“She works hard,” I said, “doesn’t just sit at home and do nothing. She runs her own business. She’s witty and intelligent.”
“Any physical characteristics?”
I blew out a breath. “You’re going to make me sound shallow.”
“We’re not here to judge,” Dr. Kwame said. “Physical attraction is important.”
“Tits or ass?” Rainbow-woman asked.
“Are you sure?”
“You don’t sound sure.”
I thought about Grace and her curvy figure next to me in the Uber.
“Both,” I said more confidently.
Priyanka made notes. “Anal play?”
I choked on my spit.
“What kind of questions are these?”
“We’re trying to assess your sexual compatibility,” the hippy lady said.
“Maybe,” I admitted. “I’m not going to say no.”
“So open to anal,” Priyanka clarified. “Both you and her?”
I was reeling after the question session.
“I feel like I just escaped the gulag,” I complained to Eric and Josh, who had been waiting for me in the next room and laughing hysterically as they watched the replays of my interview.
“When she asked you if you would be okay if your wife dressed you up in a dog costume and walked you around, and you were like, ‘If she’s hot!’” Josh collapsed in laughter.
“I think that lady was just fucking with me,” I complained. “I don’t need a supermodel. I just need someone who’s not going to try to trap me with a pregnancy or steal all my money.”
“But the dog costume is cool?”
“Speaking of costume.” Eric wiped the tears out of his eyes. “We need to find you a wedding suit.”
“I’ll just wear one of my tuxes,” I said.
“Dude.” Josh put a hand on each of my shoulders. “We jest, but really, you need to set the tone from day one. We don’t know which of the women you’re going to get paired with. I was reading through the files, and some of them seem like real pieces of work. You want to make sure she has no illusions that this is going to be one of those crappy dime-store romance novels. She’s not a princess, and you’re not her prince.”
“I mean, obviously she won’t…”
“Poor, naive little Chris.” Eric patted me on the head. “Once this bride realizes she’s fake married to a billionaire, she’s going to do everything in her power to try to make you fall in love with her for real.”
“Fuck.” My skin went cold. “I’ll resist her.”
“Will you?” Josh raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have the best track record. Remember what happened with Addison. You barely dodged that bullet.”
“No, you need to make sure she knows from day one at the altar that you are too much for her to handle and she better run back home to Daddy as soon as the wedding is over,” Eric insisted.
“I can’t believe you roped me into this!”
“And I feel terrible!” Eric said cheerfully. “But this is why we came here to help. Because we care.”
“You came here to laugh.”
“And help. We have a five-point plan,” Josh said, waving a piece of paper around. “And number one is to show up at your fake wedding looking like a lunatic.”
The thrift store was packed for a Tuesday.
Eric and Josh rummaged around the racks of clothes while I mentally tried to prepare myself for the next six weeks. The Svenssons were right. The bride, whoever she was, was totally going to come after me for my money. I mean, what kind of lunatic even signed up for a show where she was married at first sight? She was obviously mentally deranged.
“Okay, try this on.” Eric handed me a moth-eaten kilt that smelled like wet dog, and a tartan wrap that had seen better days.
“You can pull a suit jacket on over this getup,” Josh said.
“My suits are custom-made from the finest wool. I am not putting them anywhere near that.” I gestured to the moth-eaten clothes in his hands. “In fact, I don’t even want those in my penthouse.”
“We’ll leave them in the parking garage.”
“Here’s a jacket.” Josh handed it to me. “Now go try it on.”
I gingerly pulled on the outfit in the dressing room.
“I look crazy,” I said as I walked out. The Svenssons doubled over, laughing.
“It’s like Oscar the Grouch had a baby with Braveheart!” Josh choked out.
“Wait, wait!” Eric strode over, grabbed my chin, then smeared something greasy around my eyes.
“Yes!” Josh rubbed his hands together. “He looks crazy! No woman is going to want to kiss you, let alone be the future Mrs. Winchester!”
“Are you ready to take the greatest journey of your life?” Rainbow, the blonde hippy lady, asked me.
I crossed my arms and scowled.
From behind the cameras, my friends mouthed, “Smile!”
“Sure,” I said, managing a grimace.
“We want to make sure you and your husband are going to be compatible.”
My stomach turned.
It’s just a fake marriage, I chanted to myself. Still, the idea of marrying some guy I had never met freaked me out, even if it was just for show.
“Why do you want to get married?” Priyanka asked.
I took a deep breath. From behind the camera, Gunnar made begging motions.
“I want to get married,” I said slowly, “because I am a wedding photographer. I see the good, the bad, and the ugly of weddings. Sometimes the couples like my work so much that they have me come back and do baby showers or anniversaries, or family portraits. I love the idea of helping to create a brand-new family. I like the idea of having a teammate, someone to share life with—a partner.”
The two women smiled at each other.
Brea made a heart with her hands.
“It sounds like you’re ready for marriage!” Priyanka gushed.
Yeah, or my new acting career, if my book doesn’t pan out.
“Now what kind of man are you looking for?”
“What do you have in stock?” I joked.
“Quite the variety!” Rainbow said.
“I just want someone who is normal, you know, who doesn’t have weird hang-ups like hating tomatoes. He needs to be driven, but not a complete sociopath. Also, I work a lot,” I warned them. “And I won’t be giving that up.”
Wait, what am I doing? It’s not like I’m going to actually be building a life with this guy.
“And do you have deal breakers?” Priyanka asked.
“Not someone who’s a man-child,” I said automatically, thinking of Chris. “And he cannot wear sunglasses inside.”
“Any physical characteristics?”
“Can I have someone who looks like Chris Evans?”
Wait, no! No Chrises.
But…brown hair and blue eyes…
My friends were snickering behind the camera.
“But not Endgame Chris Evans where he was phoning it in,” I amended, trying to salvage the situation. “Just someone…”
“Cut, ripped, with washboard abs?” the hippy lady said with a wink.
“Er…yeah, I mean, if you have that. If not, just someone who’s not a whiny little bitch.”
“Have you dated a lot?” Priyanka asked.
“Are you a virgin?” Rainbow asked me, gaze intense.
“What? No! I’ve slept with men.”
“Would you say you enjoy sex?” Rainbow pressed.
“Jeez, getting personal with the questions.”
The two women blinked at me.
I blew out a breath. “I mean sure. It’s great.”
“Do you enjoy giving and/or receiving oral?”
My face burned.
“Are you embarrassed by these questions?” Rainbow asked me in that creepy calm way.
“You’re going to be having sex with your husband,” she said.
If he looks like Chris Evans, then I’m sure I will.
Priyanka laughed. “What size cock do you prefer on a man?”
“I…uh…I haven’t exactly measured them, so I couldn’t say.”
“What is the most adventurous thing you would be willing to do in or out of the bedroom?”
“What kind of questions are these?” I demanded.
“Sexual compatibility is very important in a marriage,” Rainbow said sagely.
“Aren’t questions like, do you share the same values, and is one person the type who leaves dishes in the sink to ‘soak’”—I made air quotes—“while the other person actually does dishes, more important?”
“Yes, but you’re not roommates. You’re husband and wife,” Priyanka said matter-of-factly. “Now, how do you feel about sex toys in the bedroom?”
“That was worse than a gynecological exam,” I complained to my friends once the interview was finally over.
“Except you didn’t have to take your clothes off,” Sophie reminded me.
“I need a drink.”
Elsie checked her phone. “Lucky for you, the party bus is almost here!”
A horn blared outside of the studio. A bright-pink bus sporting curly silver letters that read BACHELORETTES ON BOARD was parked at the curb.
“I refuse.” I crossed my arms.
“You can’t get cold feet the night before your wedding day!” my grandmother hollered out of one of the bus windows. “We’re having a condom balloon animal contest and going to a strip club!”
“It’s a Tuesday,” I said, horrified.
Gran, moving much more nimbly down the bus stairs than any seventy-five-year-old had any right to, grabbed me by the arm, and hauled me onto the bus.
A large white cockatoo shrieked when he saw me.
“Zeus!” Gran yelled back at the bird. “Shut up! I’m trying to get the deets on the marriage from Grace!”
“Shut up, bitch!” the bird screamed then preened himself. He was wearing a hot-pink festive vest with silver embroidery.
“What a nice outfit you have!” Brea cooed at the bird when she hopped onto the bus.
“Birds before hoes!” the cockatoo squawked.
“We have matching vests for everyone, courtesy of Brea’s amazing handiwork,” Gran said, passing them out, then jumped in the driver’s seat.
“It’s literally three in the afternoon.”
“Yeah, I have to be up early tomorrow to do catering for the TV show,” Elsie said. “So we’re having an early bachelorette party.” She handed out the bachelorette gift bags while Gran started up the bus.
“I took a page out of Gwyneth Paltrow’s book,” Gran said happily, “and gave each of you one of my new candles. They smell like my vag.”
Ivy opened the bag and made a gagging sound.
“Of course this is my life.”
The bus lurched, and I grabbed onto a nearby seat back as Gran swung into traffic, narrowly missing running over a tiny Miata.
“Gran,” I said slowly, looking around. “Where did you get this bus?” Party buses were usually retrofitted school buses with a plush interior. This just looked like a regular school bus with its typical rows of seats.
“Borrowed it from a hookup!” Gran bragged. “I’m thinking about buying one myself. I figured we could tear it out and put in a kitchen and a composting toilet and live in it like those tiny house people. I can take my candle-making business on the road. I have a feeling our landlord’s getting ready to kick all us old-timers out. I don’t trust him. It’s always good to have a backup plan.”
“Now I really need a drink,” I muttered when Gran pulled the bus up in front of a strip club advertising the hottest guys in Lower Manhattan.
She knocked on the door. A perturbed bartender opened it.
“We’re not open until eight.”
“We’re on a schedule!” Gran insisted. “This gal is getting married! We want to see the finest strippers New York City has to offer!”
“Gran, they’re closed.”
“Dog turds!” the parrot squawked, the crown of feathers on his head rising.
“I don’t know what this city’s come to,” Gran insisted. The bartender rolled his eyes.
“Back in my day…”
He slammed the door in our faces.
We looked around.
“There’s a pizza place across the street,” Ivy said, pointing.
We got strange looks, trooping in with our ribbons and my bridal crown.
“What’ll ya have?” the bored waitress asked when we slid into the booths.
“Wine,” Ivy begged.
“And pepperoni pizza,” I added.
“You getting married?” the waitress asked around the wad of gum in her mouth as she took our order.
“Prettiest bride in the world right here!” Gran said, patting me on the shoulder.
“Who’s the lucky man?”
“I, uh, I actually don’t know.”
“Get the groom another shot!” Eric called out. It was four a.m. I was getting married in six hours.
“Fake married,” I reminded myself and adjusted the gold crown on my head that read GROOM in diamonds that sparkled from the pulsing lights of the club’s dance floor.
“To a real woman though,” Eric reminded me.
“Maybe she’ll be hot,” Josh said cheerfully as a server in a skintight white minidress brought over a tray of chilled shot glasses of vodka. She was pretty, with long blond hair and a tiny waist.
I toasted her. “If I wasn’t getting married tomorrow, I would totally ask you out.”
The server made a face at me.
“It’s not like that,” I said quickly, “I don’t even know this chick!”
“You’re marrying someone you don’t know?” she asked in a thick Staten Island accent.
“Fake marrying,” I corrected
Her frown got even deeper. “Like an arranged marriage?”
“More like a mail-order-bride type deal.”
“No, I mean not in a creepy way! I lost a poker game.”
“He has a gambling problem,” Eric said to the waitress.
“Not like that! I have cash. I tip very well,” I assured her, standing up quickly and pulling out a wad of hundred-dollar bills.
“You better,” she said threateningly and turned on her heel.
“I feel like I used to be better with women,” I complained to Josh as I took another shot, the cold alcohol burning my throat.
“Yes, except that you never were,” he replied sagely.
“I’m sorry, sir!” someone shouted. “You cannot go up there. That is a private, VIP area only.”
“I demand to see my son! You can’t stop me from going up there!”
I looked over blearily through the fog and the lights.
My father stormed into the VIP area, narrowly avoiding banging into one of the chairs.
“What is the meaning of this?” he barked. “What did I tell you?” He reached out and snatched the crown off of my head and threw it to the floor, where the metal bounced.
“You’re getting married? After everything I warned you about?”
“No, no,” Eric said, “Mr. Winchester, it’s fake! Chris is getting fake married.”
“I lost a bet,” I explained, trying to keep my tone light to calm my father down.
He wiped a handkerchief over his red face. My father was a tall man, big in the shoulders like me. He picked up two shots of vodka and downed them one after the other then sat down heavily beside me.
“Fake married, eh,” he said, forcing out a laugh. “You had me there for a second, son.” He patted me roughly on the shoulder. “After what your mother did to me…”
He sniffed then picked up another shot glass. “I’ve spent my entire life trying to make sure you aren’t trapped like I was by a gold-digging lying harpy.” He downed the drink.
“No way is Chris going to fall for that,” Eric said in a rush.
“Definitely not! They’ve been giving me all the war stories from divorce court,” I assured my dad.
“War stories is right!” Eric said, sitting across from us and leaning forward over the low table with the shot glasses. “We just got a case in today. Nice guy, good job, lots of money, pretty wife. Beautiful little girl. Well, guess what? He came in wanting a divorce, was all choked up.”
“She cheated on him, didn’t she?” my father said, picking up two more shots and handing me one.
“Yup, but wait, it gets better. She’s pregnant.”
“Knew it!” my father boomed.
My stomach roiled like it always did when Josh and Eric retold one of their relationship horror stories. I took another shot, resolving to never get married. Hell, I was going to be like Leonardo DiCaprio and never even date seriously.
“Not only was she pregnant,” Eric said, “but we told the guy to paternity test his daughter. Wasn’t his kid. But the kid was a full sibling of the newborn baby.”
“No!” I said in horror.
“Yup,” Eric replied. “He’s been paying for another man’s child all this time.”
“And,” Josh cut in, “he’s going to continue to do so because he had been the little girl’s dad for like nine years by this point.”
Eric shook his head. “So he’s living out of his office, and she’s living with the father of both kids in the house our client paid for, living off money the client is sending her and her unemployed lover every month.”
“Moral of the story, Chris? Never. Ever. Ever get married,” Eric concluded.
My vision swam as I looked into the glass.
“Maybe you need to find some way out of the contract,” my father insisted. “That’s exactly what happened to me. Your mother trapped me.”
“But I am actually your kid. We just did another paternity test last month,” I reminded him.
“Yes, she trapped me,” Dad yelled, banging his fist on the table, sending the shot glasses rattling. “This woman, this fake wife you’re marrying, is going to do the same to you, and she’ll steal your company and everything you’ve built.”
“You have to get me out of this contract,” I begged Josh and Eric.
“No way am I marrying that lunatic,” Eric scoffed. “You lost the poker match.”
I took another shot.
“It will be fine,” Josh assured me. “It’s not legal. Just make sure you don’t sleep with her.”
“And definitely don’t fall in love.”