Chapter Two - Cliches and Lies
My stomach turned, I looked around the room and tried to figure out what Brennan could possibly need. He looked down at his desk and a sort of half smile played upon his face. He chuckled then his gaze swept back up in my direction. I sucked in a breath, and I felt my skin heat up.
Maybe he wanted to spend the night with me. Like he had with it seemed every other woman who’d come and gone from his life. I swallowed hard and shoved the thought away. Brennan was not interested in me, he never had been. There might have been a time, right when I’d first started that felt something resembling a fondness beyond friends. I’d quickly learned though that I was not the kind of girl Brennan saw. He also was professional above all else. Offering to end my contract over something so sordid was beyond anything he would ever propose to do.
“It’s my sister’s wedding this weekend.” He said, his voice dripped with nervous energy which was completely unlike him. “I’d like you to come with me and stay the weekend. When we return home, you’re free.”
My head spun, he didn’t just want to spend the night with me, he wanted to spend the whole weekend with me... and go to his sister’s wedding with him. I felt myself frown and shake my head.
“Brennan, I don’t understand.” I murmured. “Why on earth would you want that? I understand we’re friends on some level, but we don’t socialize outside of work... ever.”
Brennan nodded and looked to the side. He took a deep breath and then looked back at me. “I am my parents greatest disappointment. I didn’t follow in the family business, I didn’t settle down and marry and I don’t have a bevy of grandchildren.”
I shook my head. “You’re on the Forbes list of top 100 companies. You are an amazing success... Surely they see that Brennan?”
He chuckled and ran his left hand over his face while he picked up his coffee with the other. “I can say for a fact they don’t. I’m the oldest by five years. My 26 year old brother has been married for 3 and has two children and my baby sister is your age and she’s getting married. My brother has been helping my father run the vineyard since forever and my soon to be brother in law has been there since him and my sister got serious. My parents... more so my father, value loyalty and they think that me leaving for college and doing my own thing is like spitting in their faces.”
Brennan took a long drag on the coffee, he drank it like it was his lifeforce. I tilted my head and sat back, absorbing everything Brennan had just said. It wasn’t like him to show even an ounce of vulnerability, but he’d laid it all out for me. Effectively stripping himself emotionally. I placed my cup down on the desk and licked my lips.
“Brennan, you don’t care what people think.”
“There are a few people who are the exception to that G. My parents included.” He replied. “So if I could just go to the wedding, with a fiancée of my own. Maybe for one weekend I wouldn’t be as big of a disappointment to them.”
My stomach dropped and my heart began to race. Fiancée? I sat forward and lifted my hands up in confusion. I’d thought he’d wanted me to go as a friend, someone to have his back. This was something else.
“Brennan? I really really don’t understand.” I was beginning to sound like an idiotic broken record. Brennan was suggesting something that was so far beyond the professional friendship line we’d invisibly drawn between us that I physically couldn’t comprehend it.
“I want you to pretend to be my fiancée.” He said, his tone was almost a plea and it made me feel sad that he felt like he had to put on some act to impress his parents. It didn’t change the fact that it was asking for trouble.
“I can’t.” I whispered. “Aside from the fact it is a terribly cliché trope that I’m sure I’ve read in some trashy romance book... I need to start packing my house up. I’m moving to be where my Dad is and it’s just me Brennan. I need to start now.”
“This isn’t a romance book.” Brennan retorted. “This is real life. I know where I stand and you know where you stand. I’ll make sure you’re adequately compensated, Grace. I’ll hire a moving company, and I’ll find you an apartment and pay for it.”
His voice shook as he spoke. I was confused by my thoughts, and the niggling feeling of wanting to say yes. Not because of the compensation, but because I hated to see Brennan in so much turmoil.
“I don’t expect an answer right now G. Let me know by the end of the day. We’d need to leave tomorrow after work.”
I picked up my cup as I stood up. I nodded in Brennan’s direction and left the room. I was still in a daze as I sat back down at my own desk and stared at my blank computer screen.
Brennan Wolf, eternal bachelor, wanted me to be his fake fiancée. I hadn’t been joking when I’d said it was a cliché trope made for cheesy romantic novels and tv shows. I ate that nonsense up like it was candy on Halloween and although I’d made it seem I might be aware of such a cliché. That was an understatement.
I was unequivocally a hopeless romantic.
Agreeing to this ruse was almost certainly a terrible idea for every possible reason I could think of, and yet I was more than tempted to say yes.
By the time lunch rolled around I hastily left the office before Brennan could walk through and make conversation. I needed to avoid him if I was going to make a decision. I couldn’t look at his uncharacteristically vulnerable brown eyes and be trusted to make the right decision for me. I went down to the courtyard outside the building and called my father.
It barely rang before my father answered.
“Gracie.” Dad sang out. “Aren’t you at work?”
“I’m on my lunch break.” I replied. “I have news. I handed in my notice and I’m going to move back to Arcane falls.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, then I heard my Dad take in a deep breath. “Honey, I know you’re worried about me. I’m fine really. I’ve got the neighbors keeping an eye on me. You have a career in New York honey. Don’t give it up because you think I’m lonely.”
I smiled and bit my lip. “That’s not the only reason Dad. It’s time to move on from Wolf Technologies.”
“Well you know I’ll be more than happy to have you back. I love you to the moon and back, I just don’t want you doing anything hasty.”
I frowned, I looked up at the high rises around me, and the blue sky at the top of them all. The sun shone between the tops of two of them and warmed my face. It was too late to avoid haste.
“Okay Dad.” I replied.
Dad had my best interests at heart, I knew for a fact he’d be ecstatic to have me home, but only if it was what I truly wanted. It was no secret to my parents as I grew that I yearned for city life. I’d dreamed about working in the high rises around me, the constant movement of the world around me was somehow relaxing. Arcane Falls was and always would be the quintessential small town, possibly even more cliché in every way, than the fake fiancé trope was.
I walked back into the building no more certain on an answer than when I walked out. I pressed the elevator button and waited for it to come down to the ground floor. I heard Brennan before I saw him, he was talking to someone, but I couldn’t hear the other voice. The elevator doors pinged open, and I walked inside. I turned and watched as Brennan, and only Brennan walked in before the doors shut.
“Mom, I will be there okay.”
The elevator began to move.
“No, Mom, please don’t ask your friend’s daughter to be my date.” He paused for a second before scoffing. “Why?! Because I don’t need your help to find a girlfriend.”
Brennan shifted uncomfortably. He chewed on his lip. “Mom I need to go. I’ll be there tomorrow night.”
I sucked in a breath and made a snap decision I was sure to regret. I held out my hand for Brennan’s phone. He looked at me, his eyes wide. I watched as he swallowed hard and put the phone in my palm. I lifted the receiver to my ear just in time to hear his Mom talk about how she just wanted him to be happy like they all were.
“Mrs. Wolf?” I purred down the phone line, using my best phone voice. I looked at Brennan who was trying not to smile. “I’m Grace Reynolds. I’m Brennan’s uh, fiancée. I’ll be attending the wedding with him this weekend.”
“Grace? His P.A? Fiancée?”
“One and the same. We’ve been working in close proximity for three years. Our love snuck up on us. Our engagement is recent. We’d wanted to tell you in person, but I couldn’t help myself.”
I hated how easily the lie left my lips, and how nice it felt to say. I kept looking at Brennan, who mouthed thank you as the doors in the elevator opened once more. We stepped out into the corridor and Brennan’s Mom spoke.
“Dear, you can call me Cate.” She said, barely hiding her excitement. “I cannot wait to meet you, please put my son back on the phone.”
“Of course Cate, the feeling is mutual.”
I handed Brennan back his phone and made my way back to my office and my desk. When Brennan walked in a few minutes later he looked over at me and stopped.
“Come through.” He said, before walking into his office.
I breathed through the pit of fear in my stomach. Lying through a phone call was one thing. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to lie through a weekend, but I’d committed to it, and I had to follow through. I sighed and pushed myself to my feet and walked back into Brennan’s office.
“I’ll do it, obviously. I mean I just told your mother I would be there and that we’re engaged. I just... I’ll do it, but I don’t need you to pay for my moving or anything.” I realized I was rambling and stopped before sitting down.
“Are you sure?” Brennan asked.
“It’s a bit late for that.” I laughed looking up at Brennan. He was smiling, but I could see a hint of nervousness in his face. “I’ll do it Brennan.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll pick you up in the morning before work. We’ll leave for the airport after work. I’ll book our seats now.”
“Okay.” I paused and chewed on the corner of my lip. “Should we discuss a story?”
“A story?” Brennan questioned. “My parents won’t ask questions. They’ll just be excited I’m serious about someone.”
I felt a smile cross my face and I shook my head. “I think you underestimate how nosy parents can be when they believe their children are falling in love.”
Brennan’s jaw clenched and his eyes darkened.
“I suppose. Sounds like you have experience in that field G, you tell me what our story is and I’ll go along with it.”
I frowned, experience with love? I had experience with countless rom-com’s and many more romance books. Actual love was another matter, the last relationship I’d had was in college, and it had been more befitting of the kind of relationship of high schoolers. We’d date all week and then at the weekend he’d insist we take a break. I’m embarrassed to admit it took me almost a year to realize what was happening. I’d focused on my school work until I graduated... and I’d been on one date since.
“I guess we can just say.” I sucked in a breath. “That we fell in love slowly over time. Until it became clear that we couldn’t live without one another. Something like that.”
Brennan cleared his throat. “Something like that.”
I stood up. “Well I have work to get back to. I’ll uh leave you to it.”
Once I was back at my desk I realized just what I’d asked of myself. I’d been back at work less than 2 days and I’d already promised my weekend to Brennan. I’d wanted to leave because his personal life was becoming part of my professional life and now I’d just swung the door wide open.
I closed my eyes, and pictured myself meeting his parents, my hand in his. Acting like my world began and ended with him.
Once upon a time I’d entertained a crush. When we’d first met Brennan had taken my breath away. He had been everything I’d dreamed about when I’d read about the heroes in my books. Of course I had quickly realized my mistake and never looked back.
Until now. I stole a look into Brennan’s office, not expecting him to be looking back at me, but he was. His gaze was focused on me, at least until my eyes rested upon his and he looked away, back at his computer. I blinked hard and tried to refocus myself back on my work.
Except it was nigh on impossible, so instead, I sent an email to my landlord asking to be released from my lease early. She replied pretty much instantly and agreed on the proviso I could be gone by the following Wednesday as she had a family that needed the apartment. I booked a moving company to pack up my house over the weekend and then sat back in my chair. This was all happening so fast I felt like I had emotional whiplash and the worst part was I was doing it to myself.