He needs a wife for three weeks…
Owen Phipps is out for revenge. His mission? To expose the man who stole his sister’s money and dignity. All he needs is a “wife” who can play along. Too bad his last best hope is an actress who tries to mace him with perfume when he offers her the role of a lifetime.
Lindy Knight is a real sap. She loves too hard, feels too deep, and often finds herself saying yes when she should be saying “Let me think about it.” She can’t believe her good fortune when Owen offers her more than enough money to hold off foreclosure until she can find a job. Three weeks at a resort, money she desperately needs, and she gets to help bring a criminal to justice? Score.
It seems easy enough until a couples bonding game turns intimate, and they realize how dangerous their mutual attraction could be. Can they keep their hands to themselves long enough to find the evidence Owen needs? Or are the close quarters more temptation than they can handle?
The blood buzzed in Lindy’s ears, and she stared at him, aghast. What did he think, people just went around buying up three-week sex buddies à la Richard Gere in Pretty Woman? She held his gaze and slowly slid her hand to her purse, mentally crossing her fingers that she came up with something more threatening than gum this time.
“Listen, Mr. Phipps. I’m not sure exactly what that’s supposed to mean, but I know one thing. I’m definitely not the girl for that kind of job. I want you to leave right now, please.”
His brow wrinkled and he reached into his briefcase. “No, no. That’s not what I—”
“Don’t take anything else out of your briefcase!” she shouted, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. Now that she’d refused his salacious request, he was going to chloroform her or something. She was sure of it.
He ignored her and continued rifling through his case. She reached blindly into her bag and yanked out the first thing she could get her hands on. A bottle of body spray. Not ideal, but it would have to do.
“I’m warning you. Get your stuff and go, right now!” The puppies had risen and were barking like mad, adding to the chaos.
Owen looked up and frowned. “What are you—”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence because she sprayed him right in the mouth. She’d aimed for his eyes, but at least it was something. Sputtering, he bolted to the sink. As he turned on the faucet, she rushed at him from behind, pummeling his muscular back with her fists. She couldn’t run away and leave the puppies behind to face his impending psychotic rage, but it seemed like he didn’t even feel her blows.
“What the hell?” he growled, turning to capture her hands in his, hauling her into his chest. He scowled down at her, dark brows collapsing into an even darker frown and she stared at him in abject terror. Water sluiced down his chin, icy droplets landing on her neck. “Have you lost your fucking mind?”
His cucumber-melon scented breath washed over her face, and her fear melted under the heat of her fury. “N-no. Have you?” she said, raising her chin defiantly. Might as well brazen it out now. She wasn’t getting away. His body was like a wall of granite, the hold on her wrists like two iron manacles. Not too tight, but entirely unyielding.
“I’m not the one spraying people in the face with perfume.”
“Yeah, well I’m not the one coming into a woman’s house, tossing around lewd propositions, and not leaving when asked.”
His frown deepened for a moment, then faded. “If you’d let me finish, you would have known my proposition was anything but lewd. The contract specifically states that, if you did get the job, we would definitely not be having sex. Now, can I let you go or are you going to keep trying to hit me?” His gaze was wary, but his grip was already loosening. “I only want to talk to you.”
“Lindy, if I wanted to hurt you, I could have done it any time. Even now.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” she asked. But for some reason, it did. She drew her hands away from his and stepped back, suddenly aware of their proximity in a whole other way.
“I don’t know what will make you feel better, but I can promise you this. I’m not going to hurt you.”
His stormy gray eyes were sincere, his expression earnest, and she blew out a sigh. “Okay, okay. Sorry for the whole spraying your mouth thing. I’ve been a little on edge since you got here, and I think my imagination got the best of me.”
“It’s fine. I should’ve gone about explaining it differently. Can we start again?”
“Sure,” she said with a nod. He still put her on edge, but it was different now. Not fear, but an awareness that was almost as terrifying.
Owen rinsed his mouth out a few more times and they settled back into their seats.
“All right, now for some background information. About six months ago my sister was conned out of her life’s savings by a man named Nico Stephanopoulos. Since she basically handed over the money, no charges were ever filed.” His jaw clenched and he continued. “But her money wasn’t enough. He’s now doing business in Colorado running a married couple’s retreat. I believe it’s a scam, but I need to get proof so he can pay for what he’s done to people.”
She nodded, the puzzle pieces falling into place. “So you need someone to go there with you and pretend to be your wife.”
“That’s the plan. As I said, I don’t expect…anything from you in the way of wifely duties. We would, however, need to keep up appearances in public and participate in various retreat activities that require a level of intimacy.” He held up a hand at her suspicious glare. “We don’t have to fawn all over each other, and I promise to be as respectful as possible, but there are sure to be embarrassing moments for both of us. I like to think an all-expense paid trip to Telluride and the twenty grand would take the sting away for you. Needless to say, getting justice for my sister is worth any amount of embarrassment for me.”
His gray eyes grew steely and she realized that, although he’d seemed unflappable in the face of the world’s strangest interview, he was not a man you wanted to cross. In spite of her distaste for charlatans, she felt a twinge of pity for Nico Stephanopoulos. Then another thought occurred to her. “What does your sister think of this idea?”
“She doesn’t know. No one knows. That’s why I had to resort to all this cloak and dagger nonsense. Normally, I wouldn’t be interviewing candidates for a job myself, nor would I place an ad in Craigslist. This has to be kept as far away from my usual circles as possible.”
She thought of her own brothers and how she might react in the same circumstance. “Do you think it’s a good idea to hide this from her, though? She might not appreciate you interfering. Maybe she needs to lick her wounds and put it in the past. Forget it ever happened.”
“Frankly, I don’t give a rip whether she appreciates it or not. She’s family, and I won’t allow his misdeeds to go unpunished. It’s more than that, though. He started off as a petty card shark, and his crimes have only escalated. If three quarters of a million was his last scheme, what’s next? Now that he’s had a taste of the good life, I’m guessing he’ll go to any lengths to keep it. If I let him walk away scot free, what’s to say the next victim won’t end up with something far worse than a broken heart and a crippled bank account? He needs to be stopped. Tell me you agree with that much, at least?”
The man was a criminal, and it really would be a shame to see more people hurt by him. Especially if Owen was right, and his behavior was escalating. Still…
“You could get a really nice couch with twenty grand,” he said.
Her head was reeling. Between the rush of adrenaline and the subsequent overwhelming relief at not having been serial murdered, she felt shaky and out of sorts. Not a recipe for good decision-making.
“What’s your time frame?” she asked.
“We’d need to leave ten days from today. The sessions are three weeks long, but if I get what I need sooner, then we would naturally cut the trip short. Should that happen, you’d still be paid the full, agreed upon amount.”
“Boy, you’re cutting it kind of close, no?”
“I began the interview process a couple weeks ago. If I don’t find someone this week, I’ll have to cancel and find some other way. You’re my best shot.” His expression was unreadable, but there was a hint of desperation in his voice that seemed out of character for such a confident, aloof man. Like he really needed her. Her heart squeezed.
When was the last time she’d walked away from someone in need? Here was a man willing to put his life on hold in order to try and make this right for his sister, spend tens of thousands of dollars and saddle himself with a stranger for three weeks. She knew about that kind of love. That’s how she felt about Mal and Nate. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for her brothers.
“It’s not about the money he took,” Owen said. “I’m fortunate enough to have been able to assist her in that respect. He stole something far more precious. She was a sweet and rare soul. Believed in true love, silly as that notion is, and thought she had it. Always saw the best in people. That’s gone now, and he’s going to pay for taking it from her.”
The last was spoken with a grim determination. Not a statement, but a vow.
The words were out before she could stop them.
So what’d you think? Do you like the premise? (And you know, what you read?) As incentive – and just because Christine is totally awesome, she’s offering one lucky commenter a $10 gift card to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble!