Chapter: 06

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ELENA

"Elena. Here me out." The way my name rolled off his tongue did something stupid to my stomach.
    
Did I just relish the sound of my name from the mouth of the person who had offered me a marriage contract?
    
Yeah, I was worried for myself.
    
I sat back down and tilted my head to the side, waiting for him to get on with it.
    
"You would get a job here and I'll offer you thrice your current salary. You won't have to work two jobs. We need to be married for two years. After that we can go our separate ways."  I replayed his words in my mind. Yep. He did miss the part where he explained what he would get out of it.
    
"What's in it for you?" He seemed to be reflecting on his answer, stroking his chin in the process.
    
"My grandfather's will. I need to get married by the end of this year or I'll lose the business to someone." The first thought that came to me was that this 'granddaddy' must have been demented while alive. Mom always thought that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead but who in their sane mind would write such a will!?
    
Rylan was in a way being forced to marry. But the dash of sympathy that I might have felt for him vanished in thin air the moment my eyes fell back on his arrogant face. He tapped his index finger, probably waiting for me to say something.
    
"Where's Ava's mother?"
    
"Not in the picture." This time the answer was a little too spontaneous. "Anything else?" The way he said it was hint enough that this topic was not up for further discussion.
    
Maybe….struck a sour note there!
    
Well, I'll move on.
    
"Why me? You can get anyone to play your pretend wife." I narrowed my gaze at him. It's true. He had the looks, the money, he could definitely find someone who with some luck would have been a little more eager to play the part.
    
"I have a daughter. I can't just let 'anyone' into my house."
    
Except for that one time at the diner, he had never seen me. We had exchanged two to three words and I didn't fall under 'anyone'? Putting my arm on the table, I leaned in a bit.
    
"And what makes you think that I'm the right choice?"
    
The corner of his mouth twisted in the faintest of smirk.
    
"What do you think?" Leaning back, he put his elbow on the arm rest. The silence stretched out between us as I held his stare.
    
My eyes widened in realization.
    
"A background check!" I whisper-yelled as if I was the one engaging in unethical practices, not him. I should have realized it when he mentioned two jobs while he had seen me only at the Treats.
    
"You… I can't—" My words were failing me. A fresh surge of fury rose in me and so did the urge to break his perfect jawline.
    
Rylan pushed a glass of water towards me. "It was necessary. I needed to make sure that I wasn't making the wrong decision." I let free a humorless chuckle, unbelieving that he had the audacity to say what he just did.
    
"None of this was necessary. The only thing necessary was for you to respect my privacy and leave me alone!" I snarled those words at him. I didn't have a shameful past or a criminal record to hide but I was a private person and at the moment I felt extremely violated.
    
I stood up, done with this bullshit. "You know what? Fuck your necessity! And Fuck you! For all I care you can shove the contract up your ass!" Could everyone outside hear us? I sure hoped they did.
    
I had taken only a few steps towards the door when his next words stopped me.
    
"Your Dad's surgery…I'll take care of it."
    
"I don't need your help!" I snapped, feeling a flash of irritation at the fact that he thought of bringing this up.
    
"You sure do!" The certainty in his declaration pricked at my skin. I had been busting my ass to make ends meet and his verdict seemed to dismiss all that hard work for nothing.
    
"I don't." I gritted and saw him tilt his head to the side.
    
Thrusting his hands inside his pocket, he carried on with his depreciating little speech. "It might be a little difficult to accept but you and I both know that you could really do with an increased salary, right now."
    
"I'll manage." I almost cringed at how weak I sounded with my statement. At this point I could at least be honest with myself and accept that financially, I was still in a really tight spot. Even with the new job, it was difficult to cope up.
    
"Will you, really? As far as I know, the surgery is expensive, isn't it?" I clenched my eyes shut in frustration. He was right and I absolutely hated it, every second of it.
    
He walked closer until he was in my space. His minty breath hit me when he spoke next. "You sign the papers and your Dad will be taken care of by the best of surgeons. I'll make sure of it." Wasn't it all that I could ask for, Dad getting the best treatment?
    
"Think this through. It's only a matter of two years." I wanted to know the exact moment when he realized that he almost had me convinced. I had heard it in his voice, the complacency.
    
Swallowing down my pride, I said. "I have some conditions."
    
A pleased smile worked its way across his face. "Let's sit and talk, shall we?"
    
"You better wipe that look off your face!" I grumbled in annoyance to which he raised one perfectly shaped brow.
    
"You were saying?" He prompted.
    
"My parents can't know about this. This whole fake marriage thing needs to be kept from them." If Dad was to know that I was preparing to pull off 'something as sacred as wedding' as a part of a business deal, he might not be in need of a treatment any further. Mom on the other hand would probably disown me. Wedding and marriage is a very serious thing in our household. You just don't go playing with it.
    
"Don't sweat it. Nobody can know about this agreement. It's supposed to be between just the two of us." His voice deepened with an undertone of threat, fuelling my irritation. It's a shame that a person this obnoxious was given a face as beautiful as that.
    
"And second thing, this won't be a fake marriage. We are having a very real wedding." I swear he was starting to regret this deal because those words could be the fastest way to get my ass out of this building.
    
Not very sound, but I could actually live without realizing the depth of the decision I was making. The illusion that this was just an arrangement that was to last two years wrapped like a blanket around me, might be temporary but still a blanket.
    
"Whatever! There's one more." I said, referring to the conditions. He looked on, conveying that he was listening.
    
"We won't have sex." For the first time today, I witnessed something other than undue amusement or cold indifference in his face. Tensed jaw, a slight twitch in his right eye.
    
"We won't." then he added "Unless you want to."
    
"I would never." I scoffed and couldn't be faster about it. Humor danced in his eyes at quick defense before the corner of his lips tugged up in a smirk.
    
"Never say never, love." The itch to swing at him resurfaced. The number of times violent thoughts towards him sprang up in my mind and in such a short span of time was scary. Could be an insight into how exciting two complete years with him would be!
    
I scanned through every page looking for some absurd clauses like I would have to hand out sexual services to him whenever asked for or that the agreement under circumstances might extend over a year. Finding no such provision, I finally put my signature on it.
    
The moment I set the pen down, my head started swarming with doubts. Feeling parched I helped myself to the glass of water, all the while feeling Rylan's scrutinizing gaze on me.
    
"Now that it's settled, we need a story."
    
"A story?" I asked,
    
"Of how we met?" His face held the expression which clearly said that I was a bit dense. My brain hadn't quite processed the fact that I had actually signed those papers. It's not everyday that one agrees to a contract marriage.
    
"At the diner. We met at the diner when Ava brought you there." I suggested it and it was technically true.
    
Rylan nodded once. "That should do."
    
Could I leave already? I had heard enough of this conceited man to last me a lifetime. I stole a glance at my watch. "Are we done here? I have a job and I'm getting late."
    
He stared at me blankly. "You don't need that job anymore."
    
"Actually, I do until I get the appointment letter." I hated it when someone tried to dictate my actions. It was a feeble attempt at getting the point across.
    
He sighed.
    
"Go home, Elena. You'll receive the appointment letter in an hour. And clear your schedule for tomorrow. We are meeting someone." He said, not looking up from the laptop screen while I stood there amazed at his lack of social refinement.
    
"Do you ever say please?" I was ready to take it all back. Nothing about this man was beautiful. A fine sculpted face with the personality of a wild boar shouldn't count.
    
"No." He said after a long second stretched by. I was done talking to him for the day, my mind was made up. The only thing I was looking forward to was to go back home and take a nice warm bath.

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