Journey’s End

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Chapter 3

Nate

“Fuck me,” I muttered, pulling on a pair of track pants as I stumbled toward my bedroom door.

My first morning home in two years, and my mother decided to wake me up at the crack of dawn. A quick glance at my phone informed me it was long past sunrise.

I jogged down the stairs, skidding to an abrupt stop on the hardwood floor when I saw Stella standing on the porch with my mom.

Her eyes roamed down my bare chest before meeting mine with a glazed stare. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she was hung over. She had bags under her eyes, and they were all bloodshot, like she’d been crying all night.

“Nathaniel,” my mother called sweetly. “Could you come out here, please?”

“I don’t have a shirt on, Ma,” I sighed. “Give me a minute.”

I grabbed a T-shirt from the laundry basket and pulled it over my head before I pushed open the screen door.

“Nathaniel Michael Miller, when were you planning to tell me you were getting married?”

Shit.

I glanced at Stella. A hint of a timid smile played on her lips. I guess we were doing this.

“I thought we were gonna tell them together, sugar plum,” I whispered, slipping my arm around Stella’s waist.

She shivered when I caressed her hip with my thumb. Maybe we could have some fun with this fake marriage. My dick twitched in agreement. But first I had to deal with the situation at hand. Apparently, my fiancée had a loose tongue.

“Mom, can you give us a moment alone, please?”

“Are you and Stella really getting married?”

“Yes.”

“How? When did this happen?”

“Mom, I really need to speak to Stella in private. Please?”

“Fine. I’m going to go take a shower.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

“Sorry,” Stella whispered. “I was upset and it slipped out. But the rules state you can tell one person where you’re going. I definitely want your mom to be that person.”

“I don’t want my folks to know the marriage is fake,” I said quietly. I wouldn’t put it past my mom to eavesdrop.

“Don’t you think they’ll figure it out when the show airs, and it’s all newlyweds?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “We’ll worry about that later. For now, it stays between us. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“What made you change your mind? Last night, you were pretty clear that you weren’t interested.”

She sat down on the step with a heavy sigh. I rubbed my jaw, unsure what the protocol was when your fake fiancée was clearly upset about something.

I sat down next to her, making sure to leave some space between us. This wasn’t the time to put the moves on Stella. There would be plenty of opportunities for that later.

I had no idea where those thoughts were coming from. I’d never been attracted to Stella before. She was a nerd. And she was way too young for me when I lived there. But now we were both adults. And my instincts were telling me there was a sexual being inside that tiny body, just waiting for the right man to light her flame.

“My dad got married,” she said.

“What? When?”

“Last night. He married a twenty-four-year-old cocktail waitress with a kid.”

“Holy shit.”

Stella’s dad was the stereotypical stuffy professor type. Not a man who got married in Vegas to a woman half his age. No wonder Stella was so upset.

“Yeah. Holy shit is right. I can’t stay here. That’s why I changed my mind. And I read the booklet Jackson left me. It sounds a lot more laid back than the normal marathon they do.”

“There’s still gonna be tough challenges. Are you sure you can handle that?”

“I’ll do my best, Nate. I’m not a chicken.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“I can’t promise I’ll be able to do everything. But I will make my very best effort to be a good partner.”

I glanced behind me to make sure my mom wasn’t back. “As for the marriage part, we’ll get it annulled as soon as we get back. But we’ll have to act like newlyweds. We’ll have a camera crew with us all the time. It’ll be a challenge to keep up the facade.”

“Yeah,” she said, glancing up at me briefly before picking at an imaginary piece of lint on her pants. “About that. We need to set some ground rules.”

“No anal?” I laughed.

She scowled, her face turning a deep shade of crimson. “This isn’t a real marriage. We won’t be consummating it.”

“I was joking, Stella,” I whispered. She jumped when I reached over and squeezed her knee. “Relax. We’re going to be newlyweds. We should have some PDAs to make it believable. You need to get used to me touching you if you want this to work.”

“I don’t think public displays of affection are necessary. Not everyone does that.”

“Well, I do,” I murmured, my lips grazing the edge of her earlobe.

“We’ll see,” she said, laughing nervously.




“Would you like something to drink, sir?”

“I’ll have a beer, please.” I whispered. Stella was sound asleep in the seat next to me, and I didn’t want to wake her.

The past week had been a whirlwind of activity and preparation for our trip. We found out we had to fly to LA to meet the producers, and complete medicals and other preproduction tasks that the other contestants already did as part of the audition process.

Stella decided she wanted to get married in Vegas on the way out to California. Jackson suggested that a courthouse wedding wasn’t going to cut it with the producers. They wanted pictures of an actual wedding. Not because they cared whether our marriage was real or not. I suspected they probably knew it wasn’t. But they needed to make it look real for the viewers. That’s how Hollywood works.

Stella was still pretty upset with her dad. I had a feeling that was a big part of why she wanted to get married in Vegas. To give her dad a taste of his own medicine. She was planning to video chat with him right after we tied the knot. I was not looking forward to that.

My parents had a lot of questions and concerns about our sudden engagement. My mom was convinced that Stella was pregnant. She seemed disappointed when we finally convinced her that wasn’t why we were getting married so quickly.

Stella was like a daughter to them. If they could’ve picked any woman to marry their only son, it would’ve been Stella Crane. But my mom was devastated that we were eloping. She didn’t understand why we couldn’t wait until after we were done on Marathon of Adventure to get married and have a big fancy wedding. Of course, I couldn’t tell her.

I gazed down at the woman next to me. She was so tiny. I had my doubts about her physical endurance. If we had more time, I could have done some training with her.

My eyes roamed over her delicate features. Stella had a very pretty face. I never really noticed that before. She had high cheekbones and flawless skin. I remembered her having a lot of acne as a teenager. It was unbelievable that she didn’t have any scarring. She didn’t wear any makeup. And she didn’t really need it. She had a cute little nose. Everything on her face was perfectly symmetrical.

And those lips. Oh, man. I couldn’t wait to kiss her. Our marriage may have been fake, but I was still gonna kiss my bride when the minister uttered those famous words. That was non-negotiable.

My grandmother’s engagement ring sparkled on her long, slender finger. I was planning to buy her a ring when we got to Vegas, but my mother insisted she have the family heirloom. My mom was going to be royally pissed at both of us when she found out the truth about our marriage.

Stella stirred, her eyes fluttering open as she straightened up in her seat. She glanced out the window before smiling shyly. “How long was I asleep?”

“About an hour.”

“Wow. I didn’t realize I was so tired.”

“You’ve had a busy week.”

“That’s nothing compared to what it’s gonna be like on the marathon.”

“You’ll be fine. We’ll get lots of rest on the days off in between legs.”

She stared down at the ring on her finger. “I’m really not comfortable wearing your grandmother’s ring. What if I lose it?”

I lifted her hand and tugged on the ring. “It’s pretty snug. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”

“Oh my God!” She tried to slide the ring over her knuckle, but it wouldn’t budge. “What if I can’t get it off?”

“Relax. We’ll get it off.”

“Your mom is never going to speak to me again when she finds out the truth.”

“Yes, she will. My mom loves you. I’ll tell her it was all my idea.” I finished off my beer and folded my tray up. “I’m more worried about your dad.”

“He’ll probably be happy because it means I won’t be living in his house. More room for his new family.”

“You’re his daughter. He’s going to care that you eloped to Vegas. And he’s going to be pissed at me. I don’t think your dad ever liked me much.”

“That’s not true. Why wouldn’t he like you?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Just a feeling.”

“What does it matter? It’s not like it’s a real marriage. You won’t be coming to Christmas dinner. And you won’t be fathering his grandchildren.”

“Yeah. But he won’t know that. I think it’s probably a good thing that our whereabouts will be a secret for the next four months. I wouldn’t want the professor to throw a heavy book at me or something.”

“Stop it,” she laughed. “Only I’m allowed to make fun of my dad.”

“Fine. But I get to make fun of you. It’s one of my rights as your husband.”

“Nate,” she warned. “We have an agreement. You don’t have any husbandly privileges.”

“Maybe not in the bedroom. But in public, you have to act like my wife. Which means lots of PDAs, my dear.”

A look of panic crossed her face. She was really uncomfortable with the idea of me touching her. I would have to find out why, and correct it before we started filming the show.




Stella stared in awe at the ceiling, spinning in circles as she took in the exquisite lobby at The Venetian Hotel.

I smiled, watching her while I waited for the girl behind the desk to finish checking us in. It was worth every penny of the three hundred dollar a night price tag. Not to mention the cost of the wedding package. Fake or not, a wedding was too important to cheap out on.

“This is too much, Nate,” she said when I rejoined her. “It must be really expensive.”

“It’s not as bad as you’d think,” I said with a shrug.

“I wish you would let me pay for some of it.”

“Nope. This is on me.”

“When we win the marathon, I’m paying you back.”

“We’ll see,” I chuckled, grabbing my suitcase handle. “Let’s go check out our room.”

“You made sure to get two beds, right?”

“Yes, dear,” I sighed, pressing the elevator button.

Initially, Stella had insisted we get two separate rooms, until I pointed out how suspicious that would look if someone checked. She was pretty upset when I reminded her that we were entering the contest as newlyweds. Any accommodations provided by the show would probably only include one room and one bed, since all the contestants were married. She stewed about that all the way from the airport. Somehow, I had to get her to relax around me. Or it was going to be pretty obvious that our relationship and marriage was fake.

The room was nothing special. To me anyway. But Stella was blown away. I got the feeling she hadn’t travelled much.

“Wanna check out the pool?” I asked.

“Yes,” she gushed. “I bet it’s gorgeous.”

“You can change in the bathroom if you want. I can get my bathing suit on out here.”

“Okay,” she agreed, opening her suitcase. “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to come out, in case you aren’t finished changing.”

“Whatever,” I laughed. “I’m not shy.”

She ignored my comment, but I knew she heard me because her cheeks turned pink.

I was just tying the string on my swim trunks when she came out wearing a black lacy cover up. I could see through it enough to know she was wearing a black bikini.

Hm. I would’ve bet money that Stella Crane was a one-piece suit type of girl. With ruffles on the bottom like old ladies wore.

Wrong.

My fiancée was rocking a sexy bikini. I couldn’t wait until she shed that cover up. My dick twitched in agreement.

“Ready?” she asked as she threw some items in a beach bag she’d pulled out of her suitcase.

“Yep,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

The pool deck was pretty awesome. There were four pools, three of which were infinity pools, and tons of loungers with thick white cushions.

“I’m going in,” I announced as soon as we found chairs. Even though it was only the beginning of May, Las Vegas was hot. It was different from Los Angeles. There was no humidity. Just scorching heat.

“Okay,” Stella said. “I’m gonna get some sun first.”

I walked down the stairs and slipped under the cool water. After dunking my head, I flipped over on my back just in time to catch Stella removing her cover up.

Hello!

My fiancée was a tasty piece of eye candy. Who would’ve guessed that Stella Crane was hiding a sexy little rack under her Plain Jane wardrobe?

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her delicate curves and creamy white skin. Her tits were small. I already knew that. But they were just the right size for her body. And my mouth.

I scrubbed my hands over my face. I had to keep my newfound attraction to Stella under control. This was a temporary marriage. After the race, we would get an annulment and go our separate ways. Adding sex to our fake marriage wasn’t a good idea. We had to stay focused on the game if we wanted a real shot at winning. And Stella didn’t strike me as the type of girl to have a fling.

I scanned the pool deck, ready to indulge in a little people watching, when I noticed an old dude staring at Stella. He was probably at least forty, judging by the white hair sprinkled through this goatee and across his chest. When he started heading her way, I made a mad dash for the stairs. But I got held up by an annoying woman trying to herd her brood of brats out of the water.

By the time I reached the edge of the pool, the guy was sitting on my lounger talking to Stella, his eyes roaming hungrily over her body. She smiled politely, but I could tell she was uncomfortable.

“Hey man,” I said, glaring down at him. “Can I help you with something?”

“Nope,” he said without taking his eyes off Stella. “The lady and I are just having a friendly chat.”

“And now you’re done,” I informed him.

“Relax, dude,” he said, standing up so we were eye to eye.

“Nate, it’s okay,” Stella said, grabbing my arm as she tried unsuccessfully to pull me away. “Let’s just go back to the room.”

The guy backed away with his hands in the air. “Sorry, buddy. My mistake. I didn’t know she had a boyfriend.”

“I’m her fiancé,” I barked. “Try looking for a ring before you hit on a girl. And pick someone your own age next time.”

His eyes darted down to Stella’s left hand. “Sorry. I didn’t see it.” He scurried away across the patio, disappearing inside.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I’m fine, Nate. He was just being friendly.”

“Um, no, sweetheart. He was hitting on you.”

“Nate,” she giggled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were jealous.”

“Oh yeah?” I said, stalking towards her. “You think so, do ya?”

Her smile disappeared, replaced with fear when I reached for her and tossed her over my shoulder. “Put me down, Nate!” she cried, pelting my bare back with her tiny fists as I walked back into the pool.

“Okay,” I said before dumping her into the water.

She went under for a second before shooting back up, sputtering and cursing under her breath. Then she splashed me in the face and swam away.

But she wasn’t fast enough. She screamed when I caught her by the ankle. I wrapped my arm around her waist, her back pressed against my chest as she struggled to get free. I was so caught up in how good her body felt in my arms that I didn’t notice the little old lady treading water nearby until Stella accidentally splashed her in the face.

“Oh my God!” Stella cried as I let her go. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, honey,” the lady said, glancing at me with a devilish grin. “I remember what it’s like to be young and in love. Enjoy this time in your life. It’s precious.”




“You better be careful,” I teased when Stella came back to the table with her second heaping plate of food. “You might not fit into your wedding dress.”

“Oh well,” she chuckled as she split open a king crab leg. “It’s worth it. I can’t believe the food here. How much did this cost?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s on me.”

The Bellagio buffet was pricey, but it was one of the best in Vegas. I was glad that Stella was enjoying it.

“You’re spending too much money, Nate.”

“Holy,” I said feigning annoyance with an exaggerated sigh. “We aren’t even married yet, and you’re already nagging me about money.”

“I feel guilty that you’re paying for everything.”

“I’ve got lots of money. Stop worrying.”

After Stella was satisfied that she’d eaten her money’s worth, we wandered through the conservatory and botanical gardens. I grabbed her hand, linking our fingers together as we strolled past a picturesque gazebo surrounded by cherry blossoms.

When she tried to pull her hand away, I pulled her closer to me.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Trying to get you to loosen up so the producers believe we’re in love. If you jump every time I touch you, they’re going to see right through us.”

“I thought Jackson said they didn’t care as long as we had a marriage certificate and some wedding photos.”

“He did. But if our marriage looks fake, the viewers will pick up on it. Especially when they find out we got married a week before filming started. The producers don’t want that kind of scandal.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, gazing up at the glass ceiling. “I’m not a good actress.”

“Just relax,” I said. “I’m not gonna hurt you. Just follow my lead and everything will be fine.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’m sure it will get easier the more we’re around each other.”

We made our way outside to the fountains just in time for the start of the next show. I slipped my arm around her waist, holding her close as we watched the fountains dance to Frank Sinatra. When she leaned her head against my shoulder, I found myself wishing our relationship was real.




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