I am delighted to be joining in with J. D. Hughes’ My Beautiful Disaster blog tour! 🙂
Many thanks to Emma Mitchell for inviting me to take part.
I have the pleasure of sharing an extract with you, but mine is Extract 3, so please do make sure you check out parts 1 & 2 over at The Opinionated Dad and Everywhere and Nowhere, if you haven’t already.
Closing the door behind me, I could feel the tension in the room; a thick cloud of smoke swallowing every whole. Jesse was sat crossed legged in one of the chairs at the desk. He smiled jubilantly, almost bragging without words that he knew the secret I wasn’t aware of yet.
“Please sit,” said Daniel, offering the seat beside Jesse and took his own behind the desk. “Jesse, you don’t have to stay for this.”
“Are you kidding?” he argued excitedly. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” Jesse wiggled his brows at me.
Ignoring him, I turned to Daniel with my hands knotting nervously in my lap. “What’s going on?” I asked, feeling unbalanced. “I take it things didn’t go well with Albert?”
Jesse snorted then wilted when Daniel stared at him in warning. Anxiety and apprehension rolled off my boss in waves. I’d never seen him this edgy before. Fidgeting with his tie, loosening it a little, he leaned forward in his chair and locked his eyes on mine. His grave expression, the way his body was rigid with unease, concerned me. Only the sound of the ticking clock could be heard as I waited for him to start.
My eyes flitted from one face to the other. I waited. And waited. Waited some more. “Look, will somebody tell me what’s happening?” I asked, breaking the dead air. “You’re scaring me. Is my job in jeopardy, Daniel?”
“Your job?” he replied surprised. “No. No. On the contrary,” and waved the conspiracy away.
I sighed in relief. “So, what is it?”
Daniel swallowed hard and licked his lips. “Um…as you’re aware, Albert called. And as predicted, because Jennifer and I are the only remaining living relatives, we have been left his fortune which totals thirty billion. It’s to be shared equally between us once the legalities are sorted, which should be taken care of by the end of next week.”
Relief and shock encompassed me as I clasped my hands together in joy. “I’m so happy for you, Daniel. That’s more than enough to cover Ivy Pines.” I glanced over at the model which glowed brighter than ever before. It’s as though it knew it was about to be born. Daniel’s dream could finally come true and it would put him on the map. I turned back to him excited by the prospect. He however, remained unsmiling and unmoved.
“See the thing is,” he continued, and dragged a hand down his colourless face. Usually, his natural sun kissed skin would be the envy of all sun worshippers. Instead, he looked as though he’d seen a ghost. “See. Here’s the thing,” he shuffled in his chair. “You see there’s…. Well…If you’ll bear with me. What it is…Um.” He looked up to the ceiling for inspiration. Wow, I had never seen the entrepreneur stuck for words. “You see, there’s a stipulation…Trust me you’re going to laugh,” he pointed at me. Then, his face fell in defeat. “Oh, for fucks sake Jesse, help me out here.” Daniel slumped back in his chair and sighed wearily.
I craned my neck to Jesse. He was amused by the whole scenario and leant forward, rested his elbows on his knees, a smile pulling at his mouth. What he said next blew my mind.
“Daniel needs you to marry him, Sophia.”
“Come again?” I said in surprise.
“There’s a clause in the will that states only beneficiaries who are hitched will receive the monies. Because Jen is already married it doesn’t affect her, but unfortunately for your boss here, if he doesn’t marry by his thirtieth birthday,” he let out a small chuckle, “His half will be donated to various cat’s homes, which is fucking hilarious. I mean we all knew Uncle Icarus was an eccentric bugger at best, but a cat’s home? It’s bloody genius.”
“This isn’t funny, Jesse,” berated Daniel.
“Oh, come on, Daniel. Even you have to admit that it’s ruddy genius.”
Hold on. Was this happening? Have you ever had a moment where time stands still or you think that maybe you’re on a reality T.V show? That someone is about to pop out and yell Surprise? Yeah that!
“This is a joke, right?” I chuckled behind my fist. “I mean, you’re not serious, surely?”
“Deadly,” replied Daniel unwavering. “I have to be married within the next three weeks or I lose it all. There’s only two women I trust and as Jen is my sister, I can’t very well marry her, which leaves only you.”
Marriage? Was he mental?
“For appearances sake,” added Jesse. “You wouldn’t have to have sex or anything, just live with each other, learn what makes you both tick, and prove to good ole Icarus’ lawyers that your marriage isn’t a sham. It’s for three weeks. It’ll be over before you can say Bob’s your uncle…. Well, Icarus in this case.”
I peeked suspiciously from smirking man to serious man multiple times. “Ha ha. Very funny you two. You almost had me there,” I giggled, shaking my head.
“Sophia, this isn’t a joke. It’s real,” said Daniel in a steady voice, locking his eyes on mine. Jesse’s humour finally subsided which revealed it was anything but a wind up. Holy crap, it was real!
Of all the things I suspected when I walked in here, this wasn’t on the list. The world tilted on its axle as I contemplated the enormity of the situation. Of what he’d asked. My palms became clammy and my heart slammed against my ribcage. Marriage? Oh, hell no. I didn’t do marriage, fake or not. I was the hired help who picked up his dry cleaning, organised his schedule, took minutes in meetings, sweetened angry clients and placated his mother when necessary. The suggestion was ludicrous to say the least. It was fair to say I’d bent over backwards for Daniel Dukes and pushed the boundaries of my job title, but this? Well come on…. It was step too far for anyone with half a brain.
Daniel inhaled sharply observing me like an unsolvable puzzle. “Will you marry me? Pose as my fake fiancé for three weeks and help me out of this shit storm?”
“You want me to be your wife? Are you crazy?” I yelped, with my eyes popping from my head, my hands gripping the leather armrests in panic.
“The illusion, that’s all,” intervened Jesse, trying to soften the issue. “It’s not like you have a boyfriend anyway, and as far as I can tell, you’re as emotionally void as he is. It’s just one person helping another. What’s the issue?”
Emotionally void? Um…No I was not. Just careful when…Oh, fine, maybe I was emotionally void.
This was some weird twilight zone messed up shit that I wanted no part of. I stared hard at Jesse. “Whether I have a boyfriend or not, isn’t any of your business. It’s only been five minutes since you were flirting outrageously outside to get me into your bed, and now you’re palming me off on my boss? You’re a swell guy Jesse Martin.”
“Sophia,” interrupted Daniel, as Jesse sniggered silently. “Listen— ”
“It’s illegal,” I squeaked, rising from my seat. Pacing the floor behind the chairs with one hand on my hip, the other on my forehead, I stared at him uncomprehendingly. “You could go to prison. I could go to prison. Not that I would, because my answer is a solid no. Daniel, I’m all for you getting your money and will do anything to help, but marriage? Have you lost your mind?”
He cleared his throat and splayed his hands. “I’d take full responsibility if we were caught, which we won’t be. You’re my secretary. Flings at work happen all the time which is what makes this plan fool proof,” he said, as though indecent proposals like this happened every day.
“Um…. Hello. Can you hear yourself?”
“It’s three weeks.”
“Can you hear the words that are coming out of your mouth?”
“This is absurd. And there was I thinking you were smarter than this.”
He remained focused and forthright. “Three weeks. Look, I know this is very unorthodox and that I’m asking a lot, but you’re the only person who can help me. For the past two hours Jesse and I have discussed in depth countless women who might be able to pull it off, but none of them are you. They’re exes for a reason. I need someone I can trust to keep secrets, someone who won’t question my motives and do as I ask. Someone who I know won’t expect romantic involvement and confuse the issue. Because I’m not attracted to you in the slightest, this will work.”
“Well, you’re no oil painting yourself,” I replied, horrified by his request. The room became hotter and hotter.
“Glamour Magazine begs to differ,” laughed Jesse, and tapped the magazine with Daniel’s face on the cover. I scowled at him daring him to speak once more.
A frustrated growl escaped Daniel. “Shut up, Jesse. Sophia, I need that money. Everything I own is tied up in stocks and bonds for now. You’re my only hope.” His tone changed from a plea to intolerance.
“No,” I said adamantly.
“Do this and you’ll want for nothing.”
I chuckled an octave higher at the lunacy of it all. “No.”
“Stop laughing and say yes. Ivy Pines needs you.”
“No.” As I marched for the door desperate for air, he rose from his seat and rounded his desk to follow me. I wish I’d have opted for flats this morning instead of nude heels, so I could run like the wind out of his office. Out of the damn building. What was he thinking?
“How does the tune of one million pounds’ sound?” he said, blocking my exit with an arm. His cologne invaded my senses, a blend of soap and apples with a hint of spice.
With my hand on the door handle and almost home free, I was gobsmacked. Eyes wide, I turned to face him. “A million pounds?” I whispered utterly shocked, my mouth slightly ajar. “You really have gone mad,” I breathed, wondering where the hell the genius Daniel Dukes I knew and admired, had gone.
“A million pounds transferred into your account on receipt of ‘I do’.”
Biting down on my lip with shallow breaths, I studied him carefully realising his insane offer was genuine. Staring back at me, I realised he’d never been so serious about anything in his entire life. He was unblinking, consequential, a mountain that wouldn’t be moved until he got his own way. A million pounds might’ve been a drop in the ocean for the likes of Daniel Dukes, but a mighty big deal to someone like me.
Jesse laughed out loud and clapped his hands twice. “I knew she’d reconsider when she heard the amount.”
Daniel failed to hide his self-satisfaction knowing he’d got me good and proper. “Leave Jesse. It seems my secretary and I have much to talk about.”
“What? It’s just getting interesting.”
“Leave. Before I physically throw you out.”
“Fine,” conceded Jesse, throwing his hands up in surrender. With that, I stepped aside allowing Jesse to slide out the door. “Be smart Sophia,” he whispered quietly. “Take the offer.” Then he was gone.
For a moment, Daniel and I gazed at each other. He stared with such intensity and towered over me, shadowing me with his height and broad frame. He broke the silence first.
“Come.” Following him meekly to the leather sofas at the far end of the room, I took a seat while he poured amber liquid into two tumblers from the small bar. Passing me one, he took the seat opposite and began. “You’re the only person I trust. You know how much Ivy Pines means to me. I can’t do this without you.”
My heart genuinely broke for him. I’d seen the blood sweat and tears he’d sacrificed for the project, but to sacrifice who I was to help him? Too much.
“It couldn’t work. Working side by side every day is one thing. To live with each other is another. Outside… I’m different. See, you and I are like chalk and cheese. You drink champagne, I drink chardonnay. You eat caviar, I eat…cheap Chinese. You’re super serious, organised and ridiculously O.C.D when it comes to cleanliness and order. I’m more of a free spirit and my flat is the pits. You’d have a panic attack if you saw how I live and have your Epi Pen at the ready. Besides, I can’t act for toffee.” My voice bordered on hysteria hoping he’d see sense.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said shaking his head, rebuffing my efforts, circling the edge of his glass with his finger. “Lewis, I know your every little quirk. The way you bite your lip when you’re nervous. The way you tap your foot continually when I annoy you. The way you bite on the tip of a pencil when you’re concentrating. The way you only wear your favourite perfume on a Friday because you’re excited for the weekend. You love jelly babies but never eat the green ones. And you’re a sucker for helping someone in need, always giving a few pounds to the homeless guy on the street outside. I know more than you think. It’s my job to read people. It’s how I’ve gotten this far.”
He didn’t know anything about me. Not the real me anyway.
He shuffled forward, rested his elbows on his knees. His blue eyes met my browns, his index finger running under his lip. I knew this look all too well. He was going in for the kill. “This money could change your life in ways you can’t begin to imagine. Don’t tell me this is your dream job. I know there’s more to you than running around at my every command. Isn’t there something out there you want so badly, you’d do anything to get it?”
Yes! But a fake marriage?
How could he act so blasé over something so serious? I sipped the whiskey and it burned my throat when I swallowed. “You could have any woman you wanted.”
His usual type was tall, blonde, and dumb as shit. Not a petite, plain brunette who had a mind of her own. And that’s why he’d chosen me. Business.
He sat back comfortably, angled his body so one arm rested along the back of the chair and sighed. “I could,” he agreed. “But the less people who know about this the better. If the press got hold of this, I’d be ruined. Discretion is key.”
“Your mother would see through us like a sheet of cellophane.”
“Leave her to me.”
“Jesus, do you have an answer for everything?”
He grinned as wide as the Grand Canyon, the two perfect rows of white teeth on full display. “You know I do.”
I heeded his words. If I agreed, my life would be turned upside down. Daniel’s striking mug hit the news daily. Papped with a different leggy blonde on his arm every week, he was no stranger to the front pages. They never lasted though. Once he got bored, he’d toss them aside and have me sending a bouquet of white roses as thanks. I’d become an overnight celebrity like him whether I wanted it or not, and have reporters digging through my background for the next big scoop. I couldn’t allow that. Couldn’t take the risk of what they’d uncover. Besides, Shane and the boys would pitch a fit if they saw me headlining. After all they did to protect and hide me all those years ago, this would be an ungrateful kick in the teeth. I liked being invisible. I couldn’t imagine leading the pretentious life Daniel did.
With my mind made up, I placed the tumbler on the table between us and pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “I’m sorry, Daniel. My answer is a firm no. I hope you find someone who can help you, but I’m afraid it can’t be me.”
Heading for freedom, I left a bemused man, used to getting his own way, positively puzzled. He was at my side in a flash, puffing out a frustrated breath raking through his glossy sable hair with his hand. “Is there anything I can offer that would make you change your mind?” he asked utterly circumvented. “There must be something you want. Name it, and it’s yours.”
I felt for him. I did. His attempt to coerce me to agree was applaud-able. But no amount of money would be enough to be thrust into the limelight. Stopping at the door and turning to face him, I brushed my hand over his upper arm gently. “It’s a great offer for a girl like me. If things were different….” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “I’m really sorry.”
Realising he had no choice but to accept my decision, he nodded slowly and pushed the door open. I walked out confident I’d done the right thing.
I had, right?
Publisher: PublishNation (14th March 2017)
Daniel Dukes, millionaire extraordinaire, has it all. A thriving business, good looks, power, money and women who’ll drop their drawers at the click of his skilled fingers. Just how he likes it.
Everything changes one day when a stipulation in his deceased uncle’s will scuppers his visionary plans. The only way to get what’s rightfully his, is to marry. Who? It doesn’t matter, because the enigmatic bachelor will stop at nothing and play dirty to get what is his.
Sophia Lewis had nothing until she started working directly for Daniel at Dukes Industries. Having grown up in care, she’s tough, has an answer for everything and knows how to handle all varieties of men. For two years, Sophia has attended to her overbearing boss’ every whim. Gone above and beyond the call of duty.
When an indecent proposal presents itself, boundaries are pushed and limits are tested. Can Daniel and Sophia remain professional to fool the dead uncle’s lawyers? As lines become blurred and tempers become frayed, can two strong-willed souls be the key to unlock each other’s hidden secrets? Or will the high price of the deal come at a devastating cost to them both?
*Warning* Mature themes and one hell of a cliff hanger!
Buy a copy…..
About the author…..
J.D.Hughes writes fun, romantic suspense fiction. Born and raised in Worcestershire, she has lived in London and Northern Ireland but has returned to the city she loves.
Despite training in Musical Theatre and directing many productions, J.D. Hughes soon found she preferred making up her own stories, always completed with happy endings. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, walk her puppy and embarrass her three children. Her debut Novel ‘You Have My Heart’, published in 2016 was selected as an Amazon Customer Favourite. ‘My Beautiful Disaster’ is the next release and is a two-part series.
To learn more about J.D.Hughes follow her Facebook page J.D.Hughes, or on Twitter @joannahughes77