Excerpt: Living the Charade

Excerpt: Living the Charade

Contemporary Romance

Unedited excerpt from Chapter One

If the world was a fair place the perfect solution to Miller Jacob’s unprecedented crisis would walk through the double glazed doors of the hip Sydney watering hole she was in wearing a nice suit and sporting an even nicer personality.

Unlike the self-important banker currently sitting at the small wooden table opposite her who probably should have stopped drinking at least two hours ago.

‘So sexy lady, what is this favour you need from me?’

Miller tried not to cringe at the man’s inebriated state and turned to her close friend, Ruby Clarkson, with a smile that said: “how could you possibly think this loser would be in any way suitable as my fake boyfriend this coming weekend?”

Ruby arched a brow in apology and then did what only a truly beautiful woman could do – dazzled the banker with a mega-watt smile and told him to take a hike. Not literally, of course. Chances were she’d have to work with him at some point in the future.

Miller breathed a sigh of relief when Superman staggered toward the semi-packed, dimly lit bar and disappeared from view.

‘Don’t say it,’ Ruby warned. ‘On paper he seemed perfect.’

‘On paper most men seem perfect,’ Miller said glumly. ‘It’s only when you get to know them that the trouble starts.’

‘That’s morose. Even for you.’

Miller’s eyebrows shot up. She had good reason to be feeling morose. She had just wasted an hour she didn’t have drinking white wine she wouldn’t even cook with and was no further toward solving her problem than she was yesterday. A problem that had started when she’d lied to her boss about having a boyfriend who would love to come away for a business weekend to keep a very important, and very arrogant, potential client in check.

TJ Lyons was overweight, overbearing and obnoxious and had taken her “not interested” signs as some sort of personal challenge. Apparently he had told Dexter, her boss, that he believed Miller’s cool, professional image was hiding a hot blooded woman just begging to be set free and he was determined to add her to his stable of has-run “fillies”.

Miller shuddered as she recalled overhearing him use that particulare phrase.

The man was a chauvanistic bore and wore an Akubra hat as if he was Australia’s answer to JR Ewing. But he had her rattled. And when TJ had challenged her to “bring your hubbie” along to his fiftieth birthday celebration where she could also present her final business proposal Miller had smiled sweetly and said indeed that would be lovely.

Which meant she now needed a man by tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps she’d been a little hasty in giving Superman the flick.

Ruby rested her chin in her hand. ‘There’s got to be someone else.’

‘Why don’t I just say he’s sick?’

‘Your boss is already suss on you. And even if he wasn’t, if you give your fake boyfriend a fake illness you still have to deal with your amorous client all weekend.’

Miller pulled a face. ‘Don’t mistake TJ’s intentions as amorous. They’re more licentious in nature.’

‘Maybe so but I’m sure Dexter’s are amorous.’

Ruby was convinced Miller’s boss was interested in her but Miller didn’t see it.

‘Dexter’s married.’

‘Separated. And you know he’s keen on you. That’s one of the reasons you lied about having a boyfriend.’

Miller let her head fall back on her neck and made a tortured sound through her teeth.

‘I was coming off the back of a week of sixteen hour days and I was exhausted. I might have had an emotional reaction to the whole thing.’

‘Emotional, you? Heaven forbid.’ Ruby shivered dramatically. It was a standing joke between them that Ruby wore her heart on her sleeve and Miller kept hers stashed in one of the many shoe boxes in her closet.

‘I was after sympathy, not sarcasm.’ Miller grumped.

‘But Dexter did offer to go as your “protector”, did he not?’ Ruby probed.

Miller sighed. ‘A little weird, I grant you, but we knew each other at Uni. I think he was just being nice given TJ’s drunken pronouncements to him the week before.’

Ruby did her famous eye roll. ‘Regardless, you faked having a boyfriend now you have to produce one.’

‘I’ll give him pneumonia.’

‘Miller, TJ Lyons is a business powerhouse with a shocking reputation and Dexter is an alpha male wannabe. And you’ve worked too hard to let either one of these swinging dicks decide your future. If you go away this weekend and TJ makes a move on you his wife will have a fit and you know you’ll be reading the unemployment pages for the next twelve months. I’ve seen it happen before. Men of TJ Lyon’s ilk are never pinned for sexual harassment the way they should be.’

Ruby took a breath and Miller thanked God she needed air. She was one of the best discrimination lawyers in the country and when she ranted Miller took note. And she had a point.

Miller had put six hard years in at Oracle Consulting Group which had become like a second home to her. Or maybe it was her home given how much time she spent there! if she won TJ’s multi-million dollar account she’d be sure to be made partner in the next sweep; the realization of a long held dream and a reason for her mother to open the bottle of French champagne she had squirrelled away for just the occasion.

‘TJ hasn’t actually harassed me, Rubes,’ she reminded her friend.

‘Did he not make it clear to you at your last meeting that he’d hire Oracle in a flash if you “played nice”?’

Miller blew out a breath. ‘Okay, okay. I have a plan.’

Ruby raised her eyebrows. ‘Let’s hear it.’

‘I’ll hire an escort. Look at this one.’ The idea had come to her while Ruby had been ranting and she turned her Smartphone so Ruby could see the screen. ‘Madame Chloe’s. She says she offers discrete, professional, sensitive, gentlemen to meet the needs of the modern day heterosexual woman.’

‘Let me see that?’ Ruby took the phone. ‘Oh my God. That guy would seriously have sex with you.’

Miller looked over Ruby’s shoulder at the incredibly buffed male on the screen. ‘And they cater to fantasies!’ Ruby continued.

‘I don’t want him to have sex with me,’ Miller yelped, slightly exasperated. The last thing she needed was sex, or her hormones, to derail her from her goal at the eleventh hour. Her mother had let that happen and look where it had got her – broke and unhappy.

‘You can have the policeman, the pilot, the accountant – urgh, seen enough of them. Oh and this one.’ Ruby giggled and lowered her voice. ‘The rough, but clean tradesman. Or wait, the sports jock.’

Miller shuddered, what intelligent woman would ever fantasize over a sports jock?

‘Ruby!’ Miller laughed as she took the phone back. ‘Be serious. This is my future we’re talking about. I need a decent guy who is polite and can follow my lead.’

‘Sort of like Margaret Thatcher’s husband?’

‘Exactly. Someone who blends in.’

‘Hmmm,’ Ruby grinned at one of the profile photos. ‘He looks like he would blend in at an all-night gay bar.’

Miller scowled. ‘Not helping.’ She clicked on a few more. ‘They all look the same,’ she said despairingly.

‘Tanned, buff and hot-to-trot.’ Ruby agreed. ‘Where do they get these guys?’

Miller shook her head at Ruby’s obvious enjoyment. Then she saw the price tag associated with one of the men. ‘Good God, I hope that’s for the month.’

‘Forget the escort,’ Ruby instructed. ‘Most of these guys probably can’t string a sentence together beyond ‘is that it’ and ‘how hard do you want it’. Not exactly convincing boyfriend material for an up and coming partner of the fastest growing management consultancy in Australia.’

‘Then I’m cooked.’

Ruby’s eyes scanned the meager post-work crowd and Miller thought about the sales report she still had to get through before bed that night; still unable to completely fathom the predicament she was in.

‘Bird flu?’ she suggested, smoothing her eyebrows into place as she racked her brain for a solution.

‘No one will believe he has bird flu.’

‘I meant me,’ she sighed.

‘Wait. What about him?’

‘Who?’ Miller glanced at her phone and saw only a blank screen

‘Cute guy at the bar. Three o’clock.’

Miller rolled her eyes. ‘Five years of University, six years in a professional career and we’re still using hushed military terms when stalking guys.’

Ruby laughed. ‘it’s been ages since we stalked a guy.’

‘And please God, let it be ages again,’ Miller pleaded, glancing ever so casually in the direction Ruby indicated.

She got the impression of a tall man leaning against the edge of the curved wooden bar, one foot raised on the polished foot pole, his knee protruding from the hole in his torn jeans. Her eyes travelled upwards over long, lean legs and an even leaner waist to a broad chest covered by a worn t-shirt with a provocative slogan plastered on the front in red block letters. Her lips curled in distaste at its message and she moved on to wide shoulders, a jaw that looked like it could have used a shave three days ago, a strong blade of a nose, mussed over long chocolate brown hair and – oh Lord, deep set light-coloured eyes that were staring right back at her.

His gazed raked over her before meeting her eyes again and Miller’s heart took off. Her breath stalled in her lungs and her face felt bitingly hot.