1. strictly business
I walk up the familiar steps up to Edward’s office with my heels echoing behind me.
It’s around eight in the evening and I try not to get nervous about the time. It’s late. It’s past business hours anyway. I keep telling myself that Edward asking me to come in tonight is not the major disaster that I am imagining. Even when I know that Edward always schedules our meetings weeks in advance and we weren’t due for a meeting until two weeks from today. The fact that Nicholas didn’t mention this in the morning at work is also making me feel uneasy. It feels like this meeting is a big balloon waiting to pop.
Usually when you are called in for a meeting with your husband and his lawyer, you know that it’s most likely not about good news. Husband. It’s been a year and the fact that I am married is still hard to believe sometimes, even if our marriage is not an ordinary one. It’s no accident that I’m married to Nicholas Collins and there is a signed contract somewhere in Edward’s office to prove that.
We usually meet once a month with Edward to go over any concerns or questions about it. I never have any. Our meetings usually consist of us having a drink and listen to Edward gush about his kids or Nicholas talking about his plans for the company.
COLLINS CO was created a few years ago. Most of the work back then was done thanks to Nicholas’ father, Richard Collins, who is a successful actor and business man. When I met Nicholas five years ago during freshman year of college, Nicholas already knew exactly what he wanted to do: he wanted to take over the company. Richard didn’t just hand it over to him and it’s secretly something I’ve always admired from him. He made Nicholas earn it by going to school for a degree in Business and working for the company as any other employee. The brand has grown a lot over the years. It began as clothing for men and then for women. Now it also has a selection of purses and shoes. It’s a big, well-known brand that everyone in the industry recognizes.
I get to proudly say that I am the fashion designer of the COLLINS company which is still so surreal to me. I love going to work every morning and it makes me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something in life. Of course, there’s that little voice in my head to remind me that I had a little help but I also know that I have talent. Yes, marrying Nicholas Collins definitely helped me in giving me the huge opportunity of working in the company. This marriage gave me the platform I needed and while it does make me feel less satisfaction sometimes, I know that I wouldn’t have accomplished everything I have so far without my talent for designing. I know I’m good. A few artists have worn some of my designs to award shows to prove it.
I know I’ve accomplished a lot and I tell myself over and over that I can keep it going even if I lose my position as Nicholas Collins’ wife. I’ll still have my talent and now the experience to continue to do what I love. It won’t all be over...
Still, it doesn’t mean that it’s something I want to deal with. I’m finally in a place where I am happy with my career and I’ve gotten used to being Nicholas’ wife. Why does that have to change?
You know why, Rachel...
Yes, I know and I am almost certain that I know why Edward and Nicholas have asked me to come here tonight. I begin to brace myself. I’m a strong, independent woman. I can do this. No tears. I can’t cry and seem weak. I have to be strong and, most importantly, I can’t show them how much I don’t want to lose any of this. Men are opportunists. You give them your weakness and desires and they’ll use that to get what they want. Nicholas is an ambitious man. He’s always been. He wouldn’t have proposed the contract to me if he wasn’t. Not everyone has the guts to ask their lawyer to write up a forty-two page marriage contract and then ask their friend from college to marry him. That happened a little over a year ago but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It’s not everyday that your friend proposes to you out of the blue.
It was two months after our graduation. Nicholas brought me here, to Edward’s office that night. He was being suspicious and I was intrigued. I knew it was serious when Nicholas told me Edward was his lawyer and that he was going to be present during our conversation. That was the moment I wondered what the hell had I gotten myself into. Yet, I didn’t leave. I let Nicholas speak without realizing that what he was going to say was going to change my life. He began by explaining something I didn’t really understand why he was telling me at the time.
He told me that his father had made the decision to leave the company. Apparently, it seemed to be in conflict with something Richard sponsored so he had to make the decision to give up his shares of COLLINS CO. Since Richard began that company for his family, he decided it was time to leave the reigns to someone else. He owned one third of the company. Nicholas owned another third and Angel owned the other equal part. Angel is Nicholas’ cousin. He is the son of Nicholas’ aunt from his mother’s side. I actually met Nicholas through Angel. They were really good friends back then. Everything was different. That’s why Angel was also given the opportunity to own part of the company.
Nicholas then continued to tell me that Richard, in an effort to avoid conflict between Nicholas and Angel and essentially, the family, had decided to leave one condition to his part of the shares. It was simple.
“The condition is that whoever gets married first will get eighteen percent of his shares which means that it would put either Angel or I at fifty-one percent. Practically owning the company.” Nicholas told me that night.
“Wow, Nick, that’s huge,” I said to him. “Though, I don’t understand why he didn’t just sell you or Angel his share or why he didn’t just give it to you.”
Nick shrugged. “My father is too good for his own good. He wanted to avoid conflict between Angel and I. Between my mother and aunt. Business gets more complicated when family is involved.”
I nodded slowly. “I can imagine. So...what are you planning to do?” I didn’t realize then that he still hadn’t told me the real reason he wanted to speak with me but it was coming.
He reached out and pulled out a pale yellow folder from one of the drawers by his desk. Then he turned to look at me with his blue eyes. They aren’t clear blue. They are more of a dark blue. The kind of blue that looks like water from the ocean at night. There was a glint in them that night, as if he were about to tell me something top secret...which he was.
“Rachel, I want to propose something to you,” he said, very business-like.
I shifted in my seat suddenly feeling nervous though I didn’t know why. “Okay...”
“Before I do, I need to ask you to not repeat what I’m about to say to you to anyone. If you feel that you can’t do it, it’s okay. Just tell me now.”
“You’re scaring me, Nick,” I said nervously.
“You trust me, right?”
“Yes,” I said slowly.
He smiled. “Good. Then trust that I am looking out for both of our best interests.”
“You and I have been friends for some time. You’ve been by my side through the making of this company. You know how much I wanted it and how much this business means to me.”
“I do.” I agreed.
He held my gaze. “I need my father’s greater part of his shares, Rachel. I want to own this company over Angel.”
I wasn’t surprised about that. I figured Nick would want the bigger part to become the owner of the company. Which is why I nodded. “I know.”
“The only problem is that I am nowhere near getting married and I need to be faster than Angel. I need to beat him to it. And I need you to do that.”
“Me?” I asked in confusion.
“Yes, you. I want to ask you to become my wife.”
Shock paralyzed my body. Was he kidding? No. He was dead serious.
"Me? Your wife?”
“Yes. It would be strictly business.” He was speaking quickly as if we were in a meeting and we were running out of time. Edward was still silent. He hadn’t spoken a word since Nicholas introduced us. He was standing over by the window, as if trying to give us some privacy.
I laughed dryly. “How can a marriage be ′strictly business’?”
“Because you would be getting something in return.” He half smiled. “As my wife, I would open the doors of my company for you. I was already thinking about offering you a job anyway but I wanted to ask you this before...”
A job. In COLLINS CO. I would be a fashion designer in a real company. A real brand. I could create collections that would actually be brought to life and be sold to real people. This was a dream come true. My mind began to think about all of the great things this marriage could do for my career before I could even process the fact that Nick was asking me to marry him.
“Why me?” I had to ask.
His expression softened. “You and I are great friends, Rachel. I trust you. You were the first and only person that I thought of. You’re the only one I would I trust enough to do this. I don’t have time to look for someone, fall in love, get engaged, then get married. I just don’t. I need to skip everything and just get to the marriage part. You’re the perfect person for this. People already think we are secretly in love.” He chuckled at that.
He was right. People spent the last two years of college making up stories about Nicholas and I. We spent so much time together that people began to make speculations. Apparently, people can’t grasp the fact that you can be friends with someone without it being any romantic feelings.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I tried to smile. “But how will it work?”
He placed the thick folder in front of me on the desk. “My lawyer, Edward, created this contract for us. Please take it. Read it. Take your time but you know, not too much.” he smiled. “In short, the marriage would be for a time frame of two years which is the requisite in my father’s clause in order to keep the shares. Like I said, it would be strictly for business. I get what I want and you get what you want. Nothing physical. You would, of course, have to live with me and my family. If you agree, the wedding will be in less than three months from now.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Wow, okay.”
He reached over and placed his hand on top of mine. “You’re the only one who can help me, Rachel. Please read it over and let me know what your answer is. If you don’t agree with something in the contract, please tell me and I can adjust it with Edward.”
He looked desperate. I could tell he really wanted me to say yes. I couldn’t help but feel a bit flattered. Out of all the other beautiful women Nicholas could have, he chose to ask me to help him with this. Me. Rachel Villanueva. This was something that had been beyond my imagination. It was too good to be true. Who would have thought that befriending Angel would lead to this?
As I looked into Nick’s desperate eyes, I knew I couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to say no. Why would I say no? It wasn’t like I had a boyfriend or something that would impede me from marrying Nick. I didn’t have anyone to give any sort of explanations to. No one to question me. It was perfect. Nick was right. People would probably not even be surprised because in their heads, Nick and I have a secret relationship going on. I was going to say yes. I knew it then. This would be great for my career. It would give me the opportunity I never thought I would get. I could become the fashion designer I wanted to become. I knew I was good. I just needed a little help in getting people to know how good I was. Nick would be giving me the platform I needed.
I just had to become Mrs. Collins.