Trial Marriage

Chelsea Brighton

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Australian financier, Zack Painter, has a proven formula for avoiding commitment. When cornered, he simply demands whatever his partner-of-the-moment least wants to give. He’s currently dating successful CEO Brie Logan, who d...
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Australian financier, Zack Painter, has a proven formula for avoiding commitment. When cornered, he simply demands whatever his partner-of-the-moment least wants to give.

He’s currently dating successful CEO Brie Logan, who doesn’t seem to know how to let go. When she proposes, he suggests a thirty-day trial marriage, in which he’ll phone through a fantasy of his choosing each day, and assume ownership of her body for an hour while she fulfills it. He couldn’t be more stunned when she agrees to those terms. His first instinct is to push too hard and end their deal prematurely, but he’s soon looking for a way to make it permanent.

Excerpt
Brie usually wore severely cut business suits, crisp white shirts, and killer heels to the office. She had dozens to choose from, but none seemed appropriate this morning. She called her best friend for help. “Last night didn’t exactly go to plan, Em, and I don’t want to dress like a CEO today. I want something sexy, but I only have suits here at the apartment. We’re about the same size, so—”

“Of course I’ll lend you something! I’ve got the perfect little black dress. Hang tight; I’ll send it over in a taxi.”

When the taxi arrived, Brie gave the driver a fifty to wait. She dashed into the powder room off the foyer of her apartment building. She squeezed into the dress Em had chosen for her and hid it beneath a knee-length coat. Despite feeling half-naked, she managed to chat with the taxi driver on her way to the office.

Em met her at the door to their sixth-floor offices, plucking at the lapel of Brie’s coat and shaking her head in disgust. “Wearing a hot little dress is pointless if you cover it up!” She sighed and softened her tone. “I’m sorry Zack turned you down, but it’s for the best. Marriage is a big step for anybody, and you’re not ready.” She tugged on the lapels of Brie’s coat. “I’m sure you look fabulous under there, and I know just the guy who’ll appreciate it. Let me give him a call—”

“Stop, please. Zack said yes. Kind of. We’re going to spend a month together…like a trial marriage. He has some reservations, and uh, well, a few conditions I suppose you’d say. We plan to work through them and see how things stand after thirty days.”

Em snorted. “Meaning he’s not interested in marriage, but he wants your money too much to walk away? At least he’s predictable.”

Money would be an easy issue to overcome. Sex, not so much. “He knows I’m not poor, but he didn’t accept the key to my house.” She held up her hand. “He didn’t reject it; he simply didn’t open the box. And I didn’t get a chance to tell him that our joint bank account balance would blow his mind.”

Em clucked her tongue, pretending once again to be the voice of wisdom and reason. “If you can’t be honest, you should end it now. Before you get in any deeper. Before he lets you down.”

“He’s secretive too, so withholding information isn’t a problem. He knows I own the company. It shouldn’t be too hard for him to accept that I have other assets.” Noting the sudden tension in Em’s body, she tried a placating tone. “I’m not above using my wealth to influence his decision. I just haven’t resorted to it yet.”

“I wish you’d reconsider. You weren’t supposed to fall for him, Brie. He’s just another shallow, arrogant, smooth-talking guy who looks good in a suit. He’s no different from any of the others I’ve set you up with over the past couple of years. You’re not in the right headspace for a serious relationship, so I only introduce you to men with commitment issues. Why—”

“I want a life outside of this place, and he’s offering it.” She glared at Em, unwilling to argue the same point over and over. “His offer of a trial marriage sounds good to me, and I’m going to take it.”

“No matter what I say, huh? You had your heart set on this ridiculous marriage proposal, so I tried to be supportive. But you know what? I’m tired of pretending it’s a good thing. I see it ending badly, long before you get to the altar. I don’t want you to get hurt, so I’m going to give you a harsh dose of honesty. This…engagement was doomed from the get-go. You want the kind of female-dominated partnership that doesn’t exist in real life, certainly not with arrogant men like Zack. And as for him, I don’t even know what he wants.”

“I do.” Brie ducked her head to hide a blush as anxious laughter climbed her throat. Some of her employees had begun to arrive, so she gestured toward a corridor on their left. “Let’s go to the media room, where it’s private and soundproof.”

Em sniffed. “I doubt we’ll be cheering or popping champagne corks. You’re the least excitable person I know, and when I think of Zack, I start yawning. You’re likely to die of boredom because he’s too much of a gentleman.”

“I thought so too, but after last night, I’m not so sure.” She ushered Em into the media room, locked the door, and took a deep breath. “For the next month, Zack wants ownership of my body—for an hour a day.”

Ownership?” Em sputtered, waving her hands in agitation. “That’s not gonna happen.”

“Actually, it is. I’m pretty sure he only suggested it so I’d rethink my proposal. He’s going to call at noon and tell me what he wants from me today, and I’m already excited.” She studied Em’s face. “Don’t look at me like that. All I’ve agreed to do is listen to one fantasy over the phone. I don’t have to grant it.”

“This is a really bad idea, Brie. It’s a veritable minefield. I’m stressed just thinking about the possible pitfalls.”

I need to do this, Em. “It’s been years since I spent three interminably long days trapped in a small, dark cupboard all alone. But it feels like yesterday! The only way I can strip that time of its power is to drown the crappy memories with a flood of new ones. Better ones.” She massaged her temples with her fingertips, closing her eyes while she ordered her thoughts. “Our arrangement isn’t a minefield; it’s a game of strategy. Zack will want the whole month, so he’ll start small and gradually build up. I’d like to think he’s bluffing, just stalling before he eventually agrees to marry me, but even if he’s not, I want to give this trial marriage my best shot. I think he’s worth the extra effort.”

Em swore under her breath. “The extra—” She made a strangled sound and threw her hands in the air. “You can’t be serious about this ownership thing.”

“I’m always serious. Show me another twenty-six-year-old woman who runs a company this size. And if you find one, I bet she didn’t start it from scratch.” She hit pause on her rant when she saw Em frown. “I’m not complaining, I promise. It’s just that last night was the first time in six years that I’ve felt completely relaxed with someone other than you.”

Em lowered herself onto a chair, as if she didn’t trust her legs to hold her. “Is that true?”

“Yeah. Why do you think I created a position for you when you called after four years of silence? I moved to Melbourne to make a clean break with my past, but I’ve missed the friendships I once had with you and Justin in particular. I find it hard to trust that way again, but I want to try. I’m tired of having my self-confidence and peace of mind linked to a single event in my life.” She held up her hand to ward off Em’s next words. “Don’t bother saying that my father would have paid the ransom if he’d been able. I didn’t know he’d collapsed, and I feel guilty for not being there while he lay dying.” She pressed the fingers of her left hand against her forehead, instinctively trying to ease the tightness there. “I didn’t get to say good-bye to my father, yet that’s not what haunts me the most. I spent the worst three days of my life thinking he valued his fortune more than my freedom.”

“Brie—”

“I’m still not sure I did the right thing by allowing my father’s attorney to keep everything under wraps after I was released. If we’d let the police investigate, if he’d let the story break, and if I’d offered a reward for information, I’d know who was responsible. I haven’t heard a word from Connor since, so I wonder if he has guilty knowledge. That’s probably crazy, but living with what ifs makes you consider all kinds of things.” She gestured at their stunning, ultra-modern surroundings. “Following in my father’s footsteps may be the best way to honor him. I don’t know anymore. I’ve built something grand from the ashes, so to speak, but I haven’t left all the unpleasantness behind me. A successful business isn’t enough, on its own, to make up for all that I left behind. I want a life, a partner, and a proper home. Zack’s offering all of those things.”

“That’s not what he’s offering.”

Brie sighed. “What he wants is a little unconventional, but it’s also an opportunity to stop worrying and have fun. Even if it’s just for a month, I want to block all avenues leading back to my past and enjoy the small pleasures each day offers. I want intimacy and excitement. I want to give Zack every last thing on his wish list, and then I want him to make me glad I’ve found a man with such a wicked imagination.”

“What if he’s just plain wicked, Brie?”

“He’s not.” He’s gentle and commanding, and I feel truly alive for the first time in what seems like forever. “My guess is that he wants to boss me around for almost a month before suggesting a deal-breaker to end the engagement. And here’s the thing—I want that month.”

Em groaned. “Why? No offense, but you’re the last person I’d ever expect to get caught up in something like this. You always play it safe, especially with men, and now you’re planning a monthlong…orgy.”

Brie laughed at Em’s description. “This is less about sex and more about letting someone into my life. Keeping everyone at arm’s length is exhausting. It’s a relief to set that constant suspicion aside. Zack’s calm and gentle and grounded. He’s the only man I’m not wary of.”

“He wants to own you. That should make you want to run, screaming, in the other direction.”

“It doesn’t. He was horrified when I proposed, but then he started issuing orders, and it was pretty damned hot.” She grinned. “I want more, and I need your help to draft some guidelines for our trial marriage, something that outlines what is and isn’t acceptable.”

Em sputtered incoherently. “What makes you think he’ll bother reading it? Jeez, Brie, you have the worst taste in men. You know that, right?”

Brie laughed. “You introduced me to Connor back when we were at uni, and you’ve set me up with every man I’ve dated since you came to Melbourne, so maybe your taste is questionable?”

“It’s definitely your influence that affects them. You have a knack for exposing weaknesses that have never surfaced before.” Em’s glare prevented Brie from interrupting. “Did you know that Connor’s gambling addiction went from a weekly poker game with friends before he met you, to daily losses in the thousands while you were engaged?”

Connor had money problems?

“Honestly Brie, you’re so squeaky clean that everyone else has to compensate by ramping up their vices.” She laughed, but it sounded hollow. “Including me.”

“What are your vices? Aside from being so damned overprotective you scare prospective partners away from me, your weaknesses are tequila and one-night stands. It’s hardly a damning list.”

“If that’s all you see, you need your eyes checked.”

Copyright © Chelsea Brighton

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