Mister Fake Fiance by Nadia Lee

Chapter One



David

My phone rings, the sound piercing my skull like a saber saw. A high-tech lightsaber saw. Groaning, I fumble around on the nightstand. Must stop this aural assault before it completes the job that yesterday’s cookies didn’t. Or I’ll die like a possum crossing a highway. Finally, my hand finds the phone.

“Yeah?”

“Hello, Da— My goodness. Are you still asleep?” Mom’s voice is ultra-energetic.

“Yes. I’m on the West Coast.” I squint at my phone. Barely nine a.m. Ugh.

“So?”

“So that means I’m three hours behind you.”

“And? When did it become acceptable to be lounging around in bed at nine?”

When I was almost murdered by my assistant’s cookies and—having to neutralize the poison by hitting a couple of local bars with some coworkers—didn’t get home until well past two. Not that that’s something I can share with Mom. Even if I could, she wouldn’t understand. She’s a morning person—gets up by five every day of her life. A meteor could crash in her yard at two a.m. and she’d still get up by five.

“Actually, it would be acceptable to be in bed this late if you’re making me a grandbaby,” Mom says.

“Mom!”

“You have to be married first, though,” she adds, like that’s going to unruffle my feathers. “So I’m guessing that’s not why you’re still in bed.”

“It’s too late, Mom.” My stomach feels queasy. Maybe all the alcohol from last night didn’t quite neutralize Erin’s cookies. Just what the hell did she put in them? It’s a mystery how a woman who looks so much like an angel can bake things that taste like farts from Satan’s anus.

But the bigger mystery is why she’s so determined to kill me. I’m not a bad boss. And I took a chance on her when she had zero job skills and experience. I mean, sure, it wasn’t totally out of the goodness of my heart. I wasn’t thinking straight after I found out my ex-girlfriend cheated on me.

Regardless, Erin should be sending me to my favorite steakhouse every month…although I wouldn’t expect that on her salary.

I just don’t want her to try to murder me with her baking.

The doorbell rings. Weird. Only about three people have the access to bypass the gates, and I don’t know what would bring any of them here on a Saturday morning. Still, I seize the moment. “Somebody’s at the door,” I say. “I gotta go.”

“All right.” Mom’s tone is airy. And…smug. She doesn’t seem disappointed that she isn’t getting a chance to tell me about her need for a bundle of joy to bounce on her knee.

My internal alarm says something’s wrong, but my brain’s too fuzzy from the after-effects of yesterday’s cookies and alcohol poisoning to pinpoint the problem. A sense of self-preservation says I should cut the call before something else reminds her of her lack of grandchildren.

“Bye, Mom. Love you!” I hang up quickly.

I roll out of the bed and realize I have to climb down the long, winding stairs. Why the hell did I think a two-story home was a great idea?

When your realtor showed you those slick brochures and convinced you that you needed a sunny California mansion.

True, but that’s when I was sober. Right now, I’m hung over and in desperate need of coffee. What kind of sadist installs staircases between the bedroom and kitchen, but no coffeemaker next to the bed?

I need to fix that design flaw. But first things first. Whoever’s at my door is showing no signs of leaving. They just hit the bell for the fifth time, and the ding-dong is ringing even more loudly. At least they have the decency not to lean on it.

I manage to make my way down the stairs without major injury. Still, I’m grouchy as I walk past the kitchen, where my state-of-the-art espresso machine sparkles like Indiana Jones’s treasure. It’s probably Dane. Nobody else would be asshole enough to bug me this early, and with no family in L.A., I made the mistake of giving him the code for the gates in case of an emergency.

Why the hell didn’t his wife stop him? Maybe his assholery has gotten so bad that even Sophia’s niceness is no longer enough to counterbalance it. Or maybe he’s become so terrible that she’s evicted him from their home. That’s the most likely scenario, in which case he should’ve checked into the Ritz or some other luxury hotel.

I yank the door open with more force than necessary. “What?”