“So you came here so we could discuss some major things?”
“I wasn’t lying when I told your friends that.”
“You want me to take the new job offer.”
“I’d be gratefully eternal.”
She sighed. “Just hire someone.”
“I can’t trust anyone. But I trust you.”
“So you’d pay me good money to let you swoon all over me like that in public?”
“I thought we made an excellent couple. Why I was the perfect boyfriend. Complete with that dreamy eye look like a guy hopelessly in love.”
“You’re a damn good actor, that’s for sure. I had to keep from laughing when you said you found true love the day you met me.”
“You’re perfect for the job. You just proved that. Look how smooth it went. You and me click. We work wonderfully together. They believed it hook, line, and sinker.”
“I did help to sell it pretty good.”
“Yeah, that kiss really helped to sell it. Will there be much of that?”
“I’m sorry. I know I stepped across the line.”
“You said everything would be platonic. With a little kissing. But that was like make out status. I thought you might rip my clothes right off.”
He winked. “Don’t tempt me.”
“I was just trying to help you out back there with your friends,” he said. “I knew the kiss was a major selling point. It’s what convinced them the most. Don’t you agree?”
“I never thought I’d ever say my boss is a good kisser.”
He ordered a couple of beers and grinned at her. She couldn’t help but notice that this was the first time she’d ever seen the formidable playboy executive Harvey Carlson in regular clothes. Jeans that gripped the line of his powerful legs and a blue v-neck that showed off his bronzed skin, picked up the crystal blue of his captivating eyes. He looked like a normal guy you’d meet in a club—provided that the normal guy was hella gorgeous and made your knees melt and your lady bits quiver with interest.
“Harvey,” she said, taking a long pull of her bottle for courage. “I guess I see how a charade could be helpful. You saved my bruised ego back there and I appreciate the rescue. Enough to offer to return the favor. If you still want me to pretend to be your girlfriend, I’ll do it. As long as it’s platonic.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. I would have kissed you anyway, just to stick it to those two posers at the bar, but I’m glad you see things my way. A little pretense can go a long way when it matters how someone perceives you. And it matters very much to me how my stakeholders in Bellingford Finance see me.”
“Then I’ll be happy to help. Could we—set up some terms, though? Just so I know what’s expected of me?”
“Yes, I’d be happy to lay out the expectations,” Harvey said, “First of all, the PR department of Bellingford and Greta would sort you out, so you’re packaged for maximum stockholder and director approval. Then we’d have a scheduled debut as a couple and go to a few events together, possibly a weekend getaway with plenty of photo opps of us in a staged romantic embrace. This goes on for a couple of months, I get my good evaluation, then we quote-unquote break up shortly thereafter, and you receive your bonus for a job well done. You’ll be paid as an employee should, but off the books because obviously that would be a matter of record at the corporation. I was thinking something in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars for two months of service. Is that reasonable?”
Bella choked on her beer, had to cover her face with her napkin as she snorted a burning mouthful of fizzing ale in shock. When she stopped coughing and her eyes cleared, she blinked furiously, trying to think of a way to accept without sounding overly excited about that amount of money. That was tuition money. That was even living money for while she finished her degree so she could really concentrate on her studies. She could even give Madison money to help with cooking school. It was a life-changing amount of money.
nbsp; Nodding, she struggled to find words. He shrugged, “Fine, play hardball. I underestimated you. 150, 000.”
“Yes,” she said, gaping. He had offered her more money.
“I would’ve paid up to a quarter million, you should have held out,” he teased, toasting her with his beer bottle. “Now, give me your phone. I’m going to program my number into it, and you can start messaging me and calling me.”
“Like I should text you to say, hey babe, sink’s clean!” she said.