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Bought And Paid For (Part Three) by Paige North (1)

Grayson

“Just ignore all the attention,” I murmur to Harlow as we sit in the corner of the exclusive French brasserie where we’re eating lunch between the tours Jayne has arranged.

With a knowing look in her eyes, Harlow smiles and drinks her red burgundy wine, acting like a good fake girlfriend, even in the midst of all the prying gazes.

The place seats about twenty people, and we have a view of the Four Point Channel waterfront and gardens. Around us, brass trimmings and a massive fish tank offer a serene atmosphere, and the clientele is dressed in conservative clothing, as if they just came straight from salons where they talk about the literary books they’ve been reading in their old-money mansions. Even though I am new-money, they know exactly who I am, thanks to gossip columns and society pages. As far as they are concerned, I appeared out of nowhere to dwell amongst their ranks, and they would turn their noses up at me even more if they knew that I built their office buildings and the restaurants they eat in when I was just a kid from an impoverished family, breaking my back on my way to the top.

As they check out Harlow and me and turn up their noses, I try not to scowl back. Every one of them might as well be on the board of Colossus conspiring to oust me because of my reputation.

They can all fuck themselves.

Harlow sits up in her chair, trying to seem as if she isn’t ill at ease. I don’t think she is on guard just because of the people who keep perusing her though. She was also a bit tense while we took our first personal tour of the day on the Freedom Trail where our guide walked us past graveyards and historical sites like the Paul Revere House. All day we have been acting like a couple, purposely brushing arms, holding hands, pretending not to notice when people take sly pictures of us.

There is something more to Harlow’s tension than even the scrutiny, and it has everything to do with what happened in my bedroom.

I didn’t intend to hold her all night, but somehow I did. And, when I woke up to find her innocently exploring me with the light touch of her fingertips, that was all I could stand. Fortunately I was able to restrain myself from doing what I really wanted to do — fuck her, see her face flush while she went to that special little world she always goes to when she orgasms for me. Afterward, I held her in my arms again for a while, telling myself that I have everything under control, which I do. Then I got out of bed, phoned Jayne to have her arrange some tours as Harlow requested, and then contacted Rick to tell him I wouldn’t be in the office today.

Things couldn’t be running any smoother with The Great Intimacy Charade because the sex is hot, and this electricity between Harlow and me will go a long way in making people believe that we are genuinely in to each other.

Everything will work out as long as my rules are followed.

As our server comes by to clear our Pan-Seared Foie Gras appetizer and replace those plates with our entrées, Harlow sends him a beaming smile. He smiles right back, totally under her spell. Something gets perilously warm in my chest. I am getting territorial — a perfectly normal, basic response because of my male pride. After all, I am sitting right here, and Harlow is supposed to be my serious girlfriend.

I level a back-off gaze at our waiter, and he lowers his head and asks if there is anything else he can get for us. When I tell him everything is satisfactory, he retreats.

Harlow stares at me a moment too long with her big blue eyes. My pulse races as I linger on her: her delicate features, her lovely lips, the curly golden hair she has pinned back from her face. She is dressed in a conservative Michael Kors jacket and pants that Jayne picked out for her, and she shouldn’t look sexy at all. But she does.

God help me she does.

My phone dings on the table next to me, and I am only too glad to pick it up and look at the text.

“It’s Rick,” I murmur, keeping my voice down so the other tables won’t be privy to our business. “He says that our pictures are already online.” I show Harlow my screen, where Rick has forwarded a social media photo of us in front of the Old State House. We are listening intently to our elderly guide who is dressed in a Pilgrim hat, and my arm is draped around my fake girlfriend. Things couldn’t look more couple-y than this.

Harlow checks out the picture and then nods. “I imagine Rick will be showing that to Jake Foreman.” Then, as prim as you please, she starts cutting into her Chicken Coq-au-Vin.

She might as well be cutting into the remaining tension between us with that knife.

My phone dings again with another text. I straighten in my chair. “Rick says that he scheduled the dinner with Jake Foreman and the big wigs at Avilus, Inc. It’s going to be this weekend.”

Harlow puts down her cutlery. “That’s only a few days away.”

I send her a confident smile. “We’ll be ready for them. We’re spending the rest of today touring Salem, and we’ll be out and about as much as we can be until that dinner. With every passing hour, there’ll be more pictures posted — more evidence that we’re...”

“Together.”

A long pause stretches between us, and it’s almost as if there’s a large rubber band that connects us, threatening to snap if either one of us should make a false move.

She looks around the restaurant and puts on another happy girlfriend smile. Several snobs meet her steady gaze, nod and smile, and then return to their meals.

Interesting. The upper class set seems to approve of Harlow. She’s got them fooled.

She really is proving to be an asset.

She brings her attention back to me. “I’m glad Jayne picked Salem for our next tour. By the way, did you know that, during the witch trials, two dogs were given death sentences for working with witches?”

“No, I wasn’t aware of that.”

“It’s just one of those screwy, buried facts of history. Everyone usually concentrates on the trials themselves — which are fascinating. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s the little details like this that really make things come alive for me.”

I nod as I cut into my Duck Leg Confit. Throughout our appetizer course, Harlow has been reciting factoids like, Besides what our guide told us, did you know Paul Revere sometimes moonlighted as a dentist? Did you know he put together the first patriot intelligence outfit that we know of? She’s like a walking Wikipedia, probably because she spent most of the morning looking these things up on the laptop computer I gave her for her entertainment. Her curious mind is also an asset.

“Didn’t you say you were pursuing a Business Economics degree, not one in History?” I ask.

She perks up in her seat and picks up her fork and knife again. “If I had my druthers, I would have majored in History, but there’s not as much money in it. But a degree in Business Economics comes with a lot more opportunity, so I’m happy with that too.” She digs in to her food. “I mean, I don’t want to go in to the same kind of big-league business you’re in — I only want to better my family’s lives. I’d like to have a business with all of them someday. I have no idea what we would sell, but that’s why I’m going to school after all.” She sighs.

I distance myself from everything she just threw at me. “When Jake Foreman asks about your goals, at least now I’ll know.”

While she chews her food, she quiets down, as if she knows that she was skirting the boundaries of my discomfort with all that information. I watch her mouth and think about how it felt on me, then check myself and go back to my own food.

If anything, today has made our working relationship easier.

And the easier it is to fool Jake Foreman into thinking Harlow and I are for real, the better.

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