But at what price?
Miles turned me around and pressed his finger under my chin to force me to look at him. “There will be a prenup. I will put in writing that you will get a million dollars after the marriage ends. Just a few months. Six at the most. And then we’ll go our separate ways, and you’ll have the money and my family name to open doors for you. You will be able to do anything you want to do.”
“And what do you get out of it?”
He studied my face for a long minute. “I get a wife to present a certain statement to my clients, my family, and anyone else who matters. I get my mother off my back. I get…” He studied my face for a minute. “I get what I need.”
I blushed. He made a sort of groaning sound when he saw it.
“That’s not what I meant. There won’t be any sexual contact between us. At the very least, you’ll have to suffer my kiss at the wedding. But that’s all.”
“Where will we live?”
“I have a house outside of town. It’s an old colonial I fixed up. You’ll love it.”
I started to shake my head, but his hand was still under my chin.
“I am an honorable man despite what the press says. I will not force myself on a woman.”
“Just for a few months.”
“And if I want out early?”
“You’ll lose some of the money. But you’ll still have your aunts’ house and my name. But if you stay the whole time, I’m make sure you get a good job. Your dream job. I’ll arrange for it personally.”
“Just like that?”
“I’m Miles Thorn, son of Jackson Thorn. I can make anything happen.”
He pulled me back to the table and pushed me down onto the chair. I stared at my hands, unable to think. It was…insane. Who asks a complete stranger to marry him? And what was worse, who actually considered taking him up on the offer?
But, the thing was, I was considering it. If all he did was pay off my aunts’ house, that would be incredible. I certainly wasn’t going to do it working at Starbuck’s for ten bucks an hour. It was like a dream come true.
“I have the paperwork at my office. I can have it sent to you in the morning.”
I nodded, not really thinking of what I was agreeing to. It wouldn’t hurt just to take a look, would it? I think I was in shock. I don’t really remember anything that happened over the next hour or so. I vaguely remember eating my shrimp. I remember getting into the car so that he could drive me home. But that was about it. The rest was just a blur.
Don’t they say that the night you get engaged will be the most memorable one of your life?
I slipped inside the house after Miles dropped me off, trying to be as quiet as possible so that my aunts wouldn’t hear me. But, despite their advanced age, they seem to have super hearing.
“Riley? Is that you, darling?” Aunt Edna called.
“It’s me,” I said, pausing at the base of the stairs.
“Did you have a good day?”
She came to the door, a ball of yarn wrapped over her hands. Aunt Colleen was right behind her, the rest of the yarn trailing between them.
“Did you eat?” Aunt Edna asked.
“Yes. I went to dinner with a friend.”
She looked at me through narrowed eyes, as though she was not sure if she should believe me or not.
“I’m fine. I’m just tired. I’m going to go up and take a shower.”
“Get some rest then, darling,” Aunt Colleen said.
I nodded as I glanced at them, taking in their well-coifed hair and perfectly laundered clothes. They were classy ladies who were always concerned about their appearance. They were from a time when a woman could face just about anything as long as her face was put on just right. It almost hurt how familiar they were to me. They hadn’t changed much in the years since I came to live with them. A few more wrinkles, maybe their hair had gotten slightly whiter over the years. A little more stoop to their shoulders. It made my heart hurt when I thought about the bleakness of their future.
I went upstairs and jumped into the shower as I said I would. I almost felt human again when I stepped out. Dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, I curled up in the center of my bed and opened my laptop.
If I was going to consider marrying a stranger, I wanted to know as much about him as I could. I’d done some cursory research on Thorn Construction when I applied for the job, but it never occurred to me to research its founder and CEO. That was a mistake I was going to try to rectify now.
All I had to do was put his name into Google and it came up with dozens of articles complete with pictures. The first few were in association with Thorn Construction, basic profiles that were designed to promote the company. They didn’t really tell me anything about Miles Thorn himself. I clicked on another article below those and found one that was focused on his father, Jackson Thorn. The senior Thorn not only had his own massively successful finance company, but he was also the grandson of a former senator who was well-known and well-loved in the eastern part of the country. When I saw his grandfather’s name, even I recognized it, and I’ve never really cared all that much about politics.