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Best Fake Fiance (Loveless Brothers #2)
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I told a judge I was engaged to my best friend.
My life has room for exactly two women: my daughter Rusty and my best friend Charlotte — known to everyone as Charlie.
One is a feisty, tomboyish firecracker. The other is my seven-year-old. I can’t imagine life without either.
So when my ex springs a custody hearing on me, I find myself telling the judge that I’m engaged to Charlie.
The only problem? I’m not.
Time to fake an engagement.
Pretending we’re a couple will be no big deal.
We’ve been friends for years. We used to sneak cigarettes behind the bleachers. We turned cans of hairspray into flamethrowers. We got drunk on stolen malt liquor.
She’s beautiful, vivacious, spontaneous, and she loves my daughter to death. It’s the perfect answer: we fake it for a few months, then go back to our lives.
Until we touch, and sparks fly. Until I can’t take my eyes off her. Until I can’t stop thinking about what she’s got on under her coveralls.
It takes one kiss.
But there’s a lifetime of friendship between us, and falling in love with Charlie could risk everything.
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The officer waves me forward, one hand on his belt, and I step through the metal arch again.
It beeps before my foot hits the floor on the other side. I go through my pockets again, nerves already jittery, resolutely ignoring the line of people forming behind me.
“Keys, cell phone, wallet, beepers, watch, jewelry, belt, no weapons in the courthouse,” the guard drones. “Do you have any artificial body parts?”
“No,” I say for the second time that morning.
I dig to the bottoms of my pockets. Nothing. I pat my back pockets, but there’s nothing there either; nothing in the pockets of my suit jacket.
Someone behind me in line sighs loudly. I ignore them.
“Could be your shoes,” the guard offers, still speaking in a monotone. “Those steel-toed?”
I look down at the wingtips I spent an hour polishing last night.
“No,” I tell him. “They don’t even make — wait.”
I pat the breast pocket of my suit and realize what the problem is.
“Found it,” I tell him, and walk back through the metal detector. It beeps again, and I pull a charm bracelet out of the pocket. Another guard holds out a small plastic bowl, I drop the bracelet in, and he runs it through the machine.
I finally step through without issue and gather my things on the other side: wallet, phone, belt, keys, briefcase. At last the charm bracelet comes through, all alone in its small plastic bowl. It’s still warm from my body heat, and I pick it up and tuck it safely back into my chest pocket.
I feel its small, heavy weight as I head for the elevators. I know every charm on its short length by heart: a book, a ballet shoe, a musical note, a tree, a heart, a tiny Eiffel Tower, a radiant sun. Her mother gave her the Eiffel Tower. I gave her the sun.
Rusty nearly missed the school bus this morning because she almost forgot to give it to me to take to court. She was already out the door and halfway down the driveway when she came sprinting in, backpack bouncing up the stairs, out of breath as she shoved it into my breast pocket saying Dad I almost forgot! before sprinting back down the driveway just as the bus pulled up.
I take the elevator to the second floor, walk along the polished marble floor to Courtroom 220. I’m twenty minutes early, so I sit on one of the wooden benches outside and wait.
A moment later, my phone buzzes.
Charlie: Break a leg.
Me: I’m going to court, I’m not in a play.
Charlie: Then don’t break a leg.
Charlie: Unless you think it would get you sympathy with the judge. Then maybe it’s worth a shot?
Me: Or he decides that having a broken leg makes me an unfit parent and takes custody away.
Charlie: I thought it was a visitation hearing, not custody, can he even do that?
Me: If he’s in the mood, probably.
Charlie: How about if I just say good luck?
Me: Thanks :)
Charlie: So picky.
I put the phone back in my pocket, smiling to myself. Charlie — short for Charlotte — is terrible with dates, but she’s always remembered every court hearing I have. She must write herself a million reminders. The thought always makes me feel a little better.
People are walking by, congregating in small knots throughout the hall. Most are wearing suits. Some are wearing what are clearly the nicest clothes they own — khakis and polo shirts, sometimes a button-down shirt. Then there’s the small smattering of people who could barely be bothered, wearing jeans and t-shirts, sweatpants, hoodies.
I pace. There’s no way I can sit still. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been here, in this courthouse, for the exact same reason, at least twenty times. I still get anxious. I still need to move back and forth, do something other than sit.
It’s just visitation, I remind myself. Crystal’s going to bitch about something or other, you’ll all agree to some new schedule, and next month she’ll be making excuses again about why she can’t see her kid.
Just then, a man wearing cutoff jean shorts and flip flops wanders past, and I stare after him.
His outfit isn’t what gets my attention. It’s the giant tattoo on his calf.
I swivel my head, blatantly staring after him, double and triple checking that I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.
Then I grab my phone, because I have to tell Charlie about this.
Me: Someone in this courthouse has a huge tattoo of Barney the dinosaur butt-fucking a unicorn.
Charlie: Please tell me it’s a lawyer.
Me: He’s wearing cutoffs. Unlikely.
Me: Also, he has a tattoo of a beloved children’s character having anal sex with a unicorn, so he may not have graduated from law school.
Charlie: You say that like lawyers can’t be perverts.
Charlie: Also, how can you tell it’s anal? Is it that detailed?