Living the Charade

By: Michelle Conder
CHAPTER ONE

IF the world was a fair place the perfect solution to Miller Jacobs’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 megawatt 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 as, without argument, he swaggered towards the 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 towards solving her problem than she’d been 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 and 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 ‘fillies’.

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

The man was a chauvinistic 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’ to his fiftieth birthday celebration, where she would also present her final business proposal, Miller had smiled sweetly and said that would be lovely.

Which meant she now needed a man by tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps she’d been a little hasty in giving Mr Inebriated 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 shoeboxes 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 and 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 them decide your future. If you go away this weekend and TJ makes a move on you his wife will have a fit and you’ll be reading the unemployment pages for the next twelve months. I’ve seen it happen before. Men of TJ Lyons’s ilk are never pinned for sexual harassment the way they should be.’

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