Marriage of Inconvenience (Knitting in the City Book 7)(6)

By: Penny Reid


“Again, you would have to intend to make a life with this person. Kathleen, this has to be someone you’ve known for a while. Trust that Caleb will have him—or her—investigated, how long you’ve known each other, etcetera. He may try to invalidate the marriage.”

Tears of frustration stung my eyes. “What if I don’t know anyone I can ask?”

Wait.

That wasn’t exactly true.

I did know someone. My good friend, Steven Thompson. I’d known him for two and a half years and I loved him dearly. He was my plus-one whenever I had a business function, or went shopping, or wanted to go see a play.

“Kathleen, I’m not exaggerating.” Eugene cut into my thoughts with more grimness, more urgency. “There has to be someone you can ask, and not a stranger or a casual acquaintance. Because, this is it. This is your only hope. This is the only way. But it is by far your best option. The chances of invalidating a marriage in situations such as these are very slim. The chances of Caleb—as your cousin—becoming your guardian are therefore also very, very slim. Sorry to break it to you, kid, but you need to get married, the sooner the better.”

I lifted my eyes heavenward, wanting to ask, “And just how does one propose marriage to a person in a situation such as this?”

Oh, hey. I know you’re gay, but my family thinks I’m crazy. Marry me, maybe?

“Let me reiterate, this person must be someone you trust implicitly because . . .” He paused, and when he spoke next his voice was laced with uncharacteristic urgency. “Caleb will try everything, even bribery, threats, everything. Please make sure he or she knows what’s expected.”

“Please explain to me how can I do that when even I don’t know what’s expected.”

“You misinterpret my meaning. Don’t ask a friend who might have feelings for you. We don’t need that kind of complication. Let them know a platonic, trustworthy affiliation is what’s expected for, by my estimation, at least five years.”

I shut my eyes. Eugene didn’t need to worry, because Steven definitely didn’t have feelings for me. I didn’t have a choice. I had to ask Steven. If Steven wouldn’t marry me, I didn’t know who I would ask.

Maybe Marie? Marie was a good friend from my knitting group, and—more importantly—the only other single friend I had.

That’s not true.

Ms. Opal was also single; her husband had died a few years ago . . .

Am I really considering this? Asking my widowed coworker to marry me? Am I this desperate? Think of what you would be asking of her!

Whoever agreed—if anyone agreed—I knew Caleb would not hesitate making both our lives a complete hell.

How can I ask this of anyone?

I cleared my throat of sentiment and asked, “How soon?”

“With your father. . . you need to move fast.” I listened as he took another deep breath, palpable worry turning his tone a new, troubling shade of bleak. “Kathleen, please, please listen and understand. This blindsided me. I wish I could’ve given you more warning, but this will keep you safe. Getting married today wouldn’t be too soon. We’ll . . . talk soon.”

Eugene ended the call and it felt like I’d been tossed off a cliff. Numbly, I glanced at the screen of my phone. We’d been talking for twenty-three minutes. Twenty-three minutes was all it had taken to completely scramble my world.

My phone was almost out of battery.

I hastened to call Steven. He didn’t answer and I cursed, turning off my phone before it went dead. I then indulged in five more minutes of allowing myself to feel. Then another five minutes of hiding within the closet of despair while I collected myself.

When I stepped out of the supply closet, I had Ms. Opal’s number-ten envelopes. I was also calm, cool, and focused.

I was on a mission. I would hold myself together until that mission was complete, and that mission started with finding Steven.

Both Steven and I worked in the Fairbanks building in downtown Chicago; he worked on the top floor, I worked on the fifty-second.

Steven had a fancy job title at Cypher Systems—a corporate security firm—that translated to a senior accountant type of position. We’d been introduced by my friend Janie, a member of my knitting group (except she crocheted). Janie used to work with me at the firm, but she’d been let go when her ex-boyfriend’s father pulled some strings and had her downsized.

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