Chapter: 16

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RYLAN

It felt weird to think of where I was standing today. In the middle of my fucking engagement party. My engagement. Even the sound of it seemed absurd. I hadn't envisioned this day in my near or far future. Guess I had only my very dead grandfather to thank for having to marry a random woman with a great deal of attitude.

Speaking of that blonde, I hadn't failed to notice earlier how difficult it seemed for her to not stare. She had seconds later faked a look of swift disinterest but that didn't hide much. In all honesty I was affected all the same. Purely physical. But the attraction was there. There was no point in denying.

My eyes strayed to the left of the hall where Elena stood socializing with people. I doubt she would remember the names of at least a quarter of them.

I watched as the delicate curls framed her face. The dress fit her like a glove accentuating every fucking curve.

She was a gorgeous woman, even with the fake smile she had plastered on her face. The type who would stand out even if the night wasn't hers to begin with.

Surely all the other men in the room tonight would agree on that.

That was a random thought I would say.

Then why the sour aftertaste?

I followed my sudden urge to walk up to Elena who was then standing with her friends. As if she could sense me approaching, she looked my way. I saw her posture stiffening at the slightest before letting loose. She was getting better at this.

"May I have this dance with you?" She offered me another plastic smile and put her hand in mine. I guided her to the dance floor before wrapping my hands around her waist. A second later she placed her hand gently on my chest.

"Just a month left until our wedding." Elena said as we kept swaying to the song. I flashed a smile in response.

"Excited, are we?" I twirled her before pulling her closer.

"So much! I can't wait to get away from you!". Up this close, I could smell the mint on her. My eyes were drawn to her mouth, those plump lips painted a light shade of pink. I was tempted to pull her flush against me and claim her mouth, to find out how those lips tasted.

Even though I resisted that urge, I couldn't stop my hand which shot out and tucked a loose stray hair behind her ear.

"I'm sure girls would beg to differ."

Her lips thinned in displeasure or maybe annoyance and I could swear she wanted to deliver a hard kick to my shin or something. But she fell into character just as soon and threw her head back in forced laughter.

Anyone looking from outside would mistake us for a couple disgustingly in love.

"You're funny." At that compliment I flashed her a bright charming smile that always had women reacting in ways. Elena wasn't immune either, if the sharp inhale was any indication.

I dipped her as the song came to an end. Even after pulling her up, I didn't let go, something stopped me from it. The way her eyes dropped to my lips...should I just lean in?

I blinked as there was a round of applause from all the guests. We went back to our roles, the plastic smiles finding their ways back to our face.

Just then I saw Ava approaching us with small, hurried steps.

"Careful." I picked her up in my arms and kissed the side of her head. She was immediately reaching for Elena.

"You look so pretty!"

"Aww, thank you sweetheart." Elena took her small hand in hers and kissed her palm. The way she always acted with Ava didn't sit well with me. It was beyond me how someone could be so affectionate towards a kid she had known for what, a year or so? I found it difficult to believe that people would at all invest in anything that wouldn't bring them returns.

That too when she was repulsed by the idea of becoming a parent to Ava. Then again she went ahead and let Ava call her mom. I still wasn't sure how to feel about that one.

God! Figuring her out was a hazard, one I currently wasn't in the mood for.

"I missed you." My little girl said with pouty lips. She had spent the night at Dad's place.

"You did? I missed you too." I mirrored her expression.

"I swear you guys would make the cutest family." I looked up at uh—Olivia was it? Her face held an awed expression. As I realized our positions, it's right that from anyone's perspective we truly looked like a small happy family.

Exactly. As. I. Needed.

ELENA

"I am exhausted." Putting the bags aside, I plopped down on the living room sofa and proceeded to massage my paining toes. Shopping for the wedding dress turned out to be a really long and tiring day. Our crew consisted of Mom, Liv, Rose and me. It took us a good few hours to choose a dress. By the time we were done with shoes and jewelry, I was beyond tired.

I have no shame in admitting that even Rose had more energy than me.

"Here, take this." Dad handed us both two glasses of water before sitting beside me.

"Thanks." He glanced at the shopping bag before staring at me with a small smile.

"My little girl is getting married in a week. I suddenly feel so old." He said with a chuckle. I smiled but it didn't reach my eyes. It didn't go unnoticed by him either.

"What happened? Are you upset about something?" He stroked my hair, looking at me in concern.

"No, why will you say that?" I forced a bigger smile on my face.

"I can tell when something is bothering you. What is it?" He was right. He knew me too well but I couldn't tell him.

"Nothing. I'm.. I'm just nervous." The guilt of lying to everyone was starting to suffocate me. It was difficult for me to keep up the ruse when I hadn't had to lie to my parents in my entire life. Mom and Dad never gave me a reason to. I could always come clean to them about anything, unafraid.

This was the first time that I couldn't and it wasn't just because I would be violating the terms of the contract. I for certain knew that if Dad were to learn of the deal and that I was doing it for him, he would not let it happen at any cost. It would kill him to know that I was marrying someone so that I could pay his medical bills.

"You don't need to be nervous. Just enjoy your wedding." He smiled at me with his kind, warm eyes. I wrapped my hands around his waist and stuffed my face in his chest.

I inhaled his smell in which I had always found a strange feeling of comfort. He rubbed my back like he had done whenever I would be sad.

"You're going to be happy this time." He kissed my hair. I bit my lip, suppressing the urge in me to confess to him.

 I bit my lip, suppressing the urge in me to confess to him

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