“You’re pretty. You’re slim. You’re outgoing. You don’t want anything serious.” Jessica Green shifted in her seat, referencing the clipboard in her lap. This interview process had been hell, but maybe she’d finally found the light at the end of the tunnel. The proverbial angel descending from the heavens to rescue her from this never-ending work task. “You seem like the ideal candidate, to be honest.”
The perfectly painted blonde in front of her grinned from ear to ear. That was one of the requirements—pretty enough to be a celebrity, vapid enough to agree to a fake relationship, and bubbly enough to convince the world. Jess’s boss, Alistair Beaumont, needed to find a girlfriend and fast. The man himself was too disinterested and too busy for the task, so Jess herself was forced to wade into the dating pool on his behalf.
Each woman signed a confidentiality agreement even before being interviewed. Most of them were lured to the Seattle offices of B3 Motors under vague enough pretenses that word wouldn’t leak. But even so, rumors had begun circulating. Alistair’s older brother Gregor had recently married for love, which Jess wished Alistair would just shut up and do already. It would make the process—and her job security—so much easier if he could just find a girlfriend, fall in love, and settle down a little already.
But instead, I’m here micromanaging his love life. Just like every other aspect of his life.
“Something that you’ll be required to do,” Jess said, tapping her pen against the edge of the clipboard, “Is both go through with a marriage and then eventually divorce. Are you willing to go to these extremes for the position?”
The blonde, named Abby, gave an incredulous laugh. “Of course! I would give my left tit to be seen with Alistair even once. You have no idea how this is going to help my career.”
Jess smiled tightly, her gaze skating up and down Abby’s figure again. Her tits were nice, but would Alistair approve? She didn’t know what his sexual preferences were. All she knew was that Alistair had a rotating door of women in his calendar and dinner reservations, and almost none of them showed up twice.
It bothered her that she wondered. Of course he would be a playboy. Alistair’s good looks were off the charts; even her annoyance with his haphazard work ethic and irritating habits couldn’t dull her appreciation of them. But what did he like?
And would it be someone like me?
Jess frowned down at her clipboard. Alistair, however hot, was never going to be an option for her. Her path was clear: stay employed, stash away money, and avoid relationships like the plague.
Her job was her boyfriend, and it would stay that way for a long time.
“It’s very important that you play the part at all times,” Jess said. “No slips. No outside flings. This needs to be rock solid.”
Abby nodded, her brow furrowing slightly. “So is it a problem that people already know he’s against relationships?”
Jess blinked. “I’m sorry?”
Abby reached into her purse, swiping through her phone. “I saw something online yesterday. It was an interview, sort of.” She bit her bottom lip, then shoved the screen toward Jess’s face. “Here. Look.”
Jess’s mouth parted as she watched the clip, something short from a celebrity rag site. Alistair was there, standing outside a restaurant in Las Vegas, it looked like. His movie star jawline and side-swept dark hair made her chest tighten for a moment, until he opened his mouth.
“No, it’s all rubbish.” Alistair flicked a cigarette into his mouth, something she knew he only did when drunk. “I don’t believe in any of that. Love, or any of its trappings.” He grinned at the camera, winking, that British accent dripping like warm honey. “I’m a bachelor for life.”
The video faded to black, and Abby pulled her phone back into her lap. “That won’t be a problem, right?”
Jess’s nostrils flared. A PR emergency already, and they’d barely started the ruse. What would happen once they actually hired a woman to be his girlfriend? Panic sliced through her. “I can’t answer that right now. I need to look into it more. But I will say that Alistair is heavily pursued. Your relationship with him will be called into question. And there will be gossip. Plenty of it.”
Abby nodded, tucking silky hair behind her ear. “I can handle it.”
“Great.” Jess checked her watch. She needed some time before the rest of her work day to investigate this pesky little soundbite. “Well, that wraps it up for now. We’ll be in touch soon, okay?”
The ladies stood, Jess shaking Abby’s cool, limp hand. Once she’d disappeared from the office, Jess sank back into the overstuffed chair, letting her mind spin out of control.
Holy hell, Alistair. What other messes have you created for yourself? She swiped open her own phone, nibbling at her lip as she launched a search to learn more. If the clip was old, she could spin it as a young, naïve, bachelor Alistair. But if it was recent—like only shortly before he and his brothers found out that his grandfather’s will carried the stipulation that they all must marry within eighteen months of his passing or else lose the business—then they were screwed.
Against her better judgement, Jess navigated to some of the other popular celebrity sites. Lo and behold—Alistair had top billing.
British Playboy Seeking Love: Apply Within
Single and Ready To Mingle? Try Marry
Beaumont Brother Seeking Wife Urgently
Her throat tightened as she scrolled through the articles, skimming them quickly as though that might soften the blow: Alistair’s secret had leaked, and now they ran the risk of his eventual relationship being doubted.
If the world doubted his relationship, it hardly mattered. The one they had to convince was his grandmother, that staunch matriarch she’d only glimpsed once in her life. Just the sight of her made Jess’s back straighten immediately. It had felt like glimpsing the Queen of England, somewhere between fear and awe—and panic that she’d offend her with a gross lack of etiquette.
If Grandma doubted the relationship, whenever it occurred, then Jess might as well jump ship now. Because if the company folded once Alistair’s grandfather’s shares were sold—as the outcome would surely be, according to Alistair—then Jess would lose the best job she’d never truly earned.
On the one hand, Alistair’s unorthodox approach to work and hiring processes were a total frustration to coexist with. On the other hand, they’d allowed her, a mere high-school graduate with an incredible knack for micromanaging and just enough smarts to fake a college degree, to slip through the cracks. There was no way in hell she could score this salary outside the confines of B3 Engines.
This business had to stay alive; not just that, it had to thrive.
It’s okay. We can spin this. We’ll deny, deny, deny. There is no fake marriage planned; this is just desperate tabloids looking for fodder. She repeated the line to herself as she scrolled the articles a second time, letting the news wash over her. Absolutely no reason for anything to change course.
But the reassurance didn’t allay the fears. If the company’s public image was hurt, then stocks could tank. If stocks tanked, she couldn’t get herself back to college. And if she didn’t get herself into college, to finally get her degree a full five years later than the rest of her peers…
Her shoulders slumped. She didn’t often wish Alistair were around to help with things, but in cases like these, his easygoing positivity would really come in handy.
Her phone rang then, a long string of numbers coming up, looking more like a joke number than anything. She listened to it ring a few times before bringing it to her ear hesitantly. “Hello?”
“Is this Jessica Green?” A man’s heavily accented voice made her brow furrow.
“This is. May I ask who’s calling?”
He rattled off a name that disappeared into an indecipherable swirl of vowels. And then he said, “I’m calling on behalf of Mr. Alistair Beaumont. He had you listed as primary contact.”
Jess squeezed her eyes shut. Oh God. Oh God. He’d left for Austria just a few days ago for a two-week ski trip. She’d bid him farewell, telling herself she was relieved, even though she secretly missed the annoying way he drew out her name whenever he had a question. “Is everything okay, sir?”
“He’s been in an accident. It would be best if someone could come soon.”
Jess’s heart thumped against her ribs as she listened to the hospital liaison explain: ski accident, head injury, unknown extent of trauma.
When she hung up, her fingers trembled, but she didn’t delay.
She needed to find a flight to Austria tonight.