The Billionaire Romance that Broke the Internet

Voted Galatea’s most addictive bad boy billionaire romance, The Arrangement has seduced millions of women across the world and taken out the title of their bestselling serial romance of 2021.

By Charlotte Kane
February 23, 2021

Xavier Knight knows the two things guaranteed to turn a girl on: fast cars and money. He has both. When a scandal forces him into an arranged marriage with Angela Carson, a penniless nobody, he assumes she’s a gold digger—and vows to punish her for it. But appearances are deceiving, and sometimes polar opposites aren’t as different as they seem…

“Hot. Sexy. Intense. I was glued to every chapter” - C.Read, Florida


If you like your stories provocative and enjoy a rollercoaster of drama, heat and passion, The Arrangement will have you begging for more… Read the first three chapters for free by either continuing below or downloading the app for the full immersive experience here >>

“I’m so glad there are multiple seasons to binge - I couldn’t put it down!” - Angie, Alabama
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THE ARRANGEMENT

Age Rating: 18+
Original Author: S. S. Sahoo

CHAPTER 1

To Sign Away a Soul

Everyone thinks they’re a hero.

We fantasize about moments of glory — the ones we read about in books and see in movies.

Run into a fiery building to rescue a dog? Sure. Donate a kidney to a friend? No problem. Stand in the way of an armed robbery? Easy.

But the ugly truth is, we don’t know how we’ll react when the moment strikes. Until the gunman has the gun pointed at your temple, and you can smell the metal of the barrel.

Will you be strong enough to do it? To face the gun and say, “Choose me. Shoot me. Kill me.”

When the time comes, what will you choose?

Your life, or theirs?


I squeezed my dad’s hand, my heart in my throat. It hurt to see him like this. He lay unconscious on the hospital bed, with tubes attached to his arms and chest. Machines beeped beside him, and an oxygen mask covered his face.

Tears spilled down my cheeks, and I wiped them away for what felt like the thousandth time.

He was a constant in my life. The anchor that kept our family together. A pillar of strength and health.

Lucas, my oldest brother, appeared at the doorway. I walked up and embraced him.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked.

Lucas looked over my shoulder at Dad. “Let’s step out into the hall.”

Nodding, I went to Dad and placed a kiss on his forehead before following Lucas out of the room.

In the fluorescent light of the hospital hallway, I let my gaze run over my brother. Looking at his disheveled hair, unshaven cheeks, and the deep purple circles under his eyes, I knew he’d had a rough day.

“Listen, Angie…” Lucas began. He took my hand in his like he’d done when I was a child and scared of the dark. “I need you to stay calm, okay? Stay strong. The news…it’s pretty rough.”

I nodded and took a deep breath to steady myself.

“Dad...” Lucas started, then stopped, his gaze going to the ceiling. He cleared his throat. “He had a stroke.”

Fresh tears sprung to my eyes.

“We don’t know how intense it’s affected him yet, but they think the ALS had something to do with it,” he continued.

“What can we do?” I asked, desperation creeping into my voice.

“We get some rest,” Danny, my other brother, said from behind me. He walked up and gave me a hug. “The doctors are still doing some tests.”

My two brothers shared a look, and I knew they weren’t telling me something.

“What?” I demanded. “What is it?”

Lucas shook his head.

“You have an interview coming up, don’t you?” he asked. “Go home and get some sleep. We’ll call you once we know more, alright?”

I sighed. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew my brothers were right. It was important that I got this job.

We said our goodbyes and I walked out into the cold night air. I spied the lights of New York City in the distance, a pit of dread in my stomach.

I felt helpless.

Wasn’t there anything I could do?

The girl next to me squealed as I spun the steering wheel, sending the car into a hairpin turn around the corner. She laughed, high off of speed and copious bottles of champagne.

“Xavier!” She bit her lip, her hands running up along my thigh. Two things were guaranteed to make a girl horny.

The roar of a fast car, and a crap load of money.

I revved the engine, sending my Lamborghini speeding down the scenic roads of Monaco. The blonde bombshell beside me shivered with pleasure, stroking at the bulge in my pants. She was a model, here in Monaco for a fashion show.

We’d hooked up a few times already.

I didn’t even know her name.

I grinned as she unzipped my pants, sighing with pleasure as she took me in her mouth.

Now this was the life.

Speeding down the roads of beautiful Monaco behind the wheel of a Lambo, my cock in the mouth of some supermodel.

No responsibilities to a multibillion-dollar company.

No annoying dad breathing down my neck.

No cheating whores that went behind my back and—

I blazed through a red light, and the blare of a police siren screamed in the night air. I pulled over, watching the flashing lights in my rearview mirror.

“For f’sake,” I muttered.

The blonde began to look up, but I pushed her back down on my cock.

“Did I say you could stop?”

The model continued her efforts, eager to please.

The cop got out of his car and began making his way over to my door.

Well, I thought, looking down at the head bobbing up and down in my lap. This’ll make one hell of a story.

I called my assistant into my office, sighing loudly in frustration. It was the third time in under a month that Xavier was making headlines, and not because he was kissing babies’ heads or volunteering at hospitals.

No.

My son had been arrested in Monaco for reckless driving and public indecency.

I pinched the bridge of my nose.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I called without looking up. In walked Ron, my twenty-six-year-old assistant. “Did you see the news?”

Ron’s mouth opened and closed a few times. He didn’t need to say anything. I doubted there was a soul in all of New York City that hadn’t seen it. The headline was everywhere.

“Call the lawyers and get Frankie from PR in here. Please.”

Ron nodded and scuttled out of my office.

I crossed the room to the glass window that filled the entire north-facing wall of my office, looking down at the streets of New York, far, far below.

I’d have to go into overdrive to make sure my son’s actions had no repercussions on the company, or him. I liked to say that I had two children: Xavier and Knight Enterprises.

Breaking away from my parent’s ventures in oil, I’d built the world’s premier hotel and hospitality conglomerate from the ground up. My two greatest joys in life were my son and my company.

And now they were both in danger.

Again.

I sighed, the face of my beautiful wife flashing in my mind.

Oh, Amelia. I wish you were still here. You’d know how to help Xavier.

My gaze over the streets drifted to Central Park. My beloved and I used to walk the park together, sitting and eating on a bench by the trees.

“Ron!” I shouted. I heard the slide of my office door. “Cancel my meetings. I’m going for a walk.”

I walked along the dappled paths of Central Park, trying to clear my mind. I was on my way back from Em’s flower shop after closing up for the day.

Long stems of the willows bent in the cool end-of-summer breeze. Swans floated along the glassy surface of a nearby pond. The chatter of children playing floated through the air, and lovers embraced on the grass.

I cradled a bouquet of lilies in my arms, taking some comfort in their gentle scent. My heart still ached at the thought of my dad in the hospital, but I had to keep it together.

I noticed an older gentleman sitting alone on a bench; his eyes closed in prayer. I don’t know what pulled me towards him, but before I knew it, I was standing next to him. He looked so sad.

So broken.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

He opened his eyes, blinking in surprise as he looked up at me.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I just wanted to ask if you were okay,” I said. “You seemed a little… down.”

He shifted forward on the bench and pointed to a plaque engraved along the back. “I’m just remembering someone important to me,” he said, his voice thick.

I read the engraving.

For Amelia.Beloved wife and loving mother.16/10/1962 - 04/04/2011

My heart broke.

I handed him my bouquet of lilies, smiling.

“For Amelia,” I offered.

“Thank you.” He reached forward to take the bouquet, his hands shaking. “May I ask for your name?”

“Angela Carson,” I replied.

I watched Angela go, a sense of peace chasing away the worry in my heart. I patted the bench, smiling up into the sky.

Thank you, my love. You’ve shown me the answer.

I reached into my jacket pocket, pulling out my phone.

“Ron, get me as much information on an Angela Carson as you can.” I examined the bouquet she had given me, noticing the name of the flower shop printed on the paper wrapping.

EM’S FLOWERS.

I nodded to myself, a plan forming in my mind.

“And get my son back to New York.”


Danny: Angie. Come quick.

Danny: It’s dad.

Angela: what happened?!

Danny: He had a heart attack.


“We managed to resuscitate your father,” the doctor said, his voice grave. “Stroke victims are susceptible to heart attacks in the first twenty-four hours after the stroke. We’re keeping a close eye on him and will continue to run tests to see what we can do.” The way he said it made it sound like he wasn’t confident there’d be much.

“Thank you, doctor,” Lucas said.

The doctor nodded and left us alone.

“How long is dad going to have to be here?” I asked in a small voice. “It doesn’t look like he’s in any shape to go home.”

“We might not have a choice,” Danny said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

My brothers looked at each other. My heart pounded in my chest. I could sense the bad news coming. Finally, Lucas turned to me.

“We can’t afford him being here, Angie.”

I blinked. “What?”

Danny ran his hands through his hair, his face haggard. “We’re broke.”

“How? The restaurant…” The restaurant had been my dad’s life when we were growing up. Mom had worked there too, until she got sick. My brothers took over as soon as they finished college.

“It’s been struggling for a couple of years. The recession took its toll. Dad put a second mortgage on the house to try and see us through.” Lucas sighed. He looked defeated.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. “I have my interview soon, so maybe…”

But Danny was shaking his head.

“The hospital bills are coming soon…”

I couldn’t be there anymore—in the hallway, in the hospital. It was too claustrophobic. I pushed away from my brothers. My shaking legs carried me through halls and down stairs until I found myself standing outside, in front of the hospital.

It was the middle of the night, so there was no one to see me fall to my knees in the middle of the sidewalk. Or so I thought...

“Excuse me?” a deep voice said from behind me.

Sniffling, I glanced up to see a man nearing me. “Yes, can I help you?” I murmured, wiping my eyes.

The man knelt before me, and I gasped as I recognized him.

It was the man I had met earlier in Central Park. The one I had given my bouquet of lilies to.

“Forgive my intrusion. My name is Brad Knight.”

I gasped. Brad Knight?

The Brad Knight?

The billionaire behind Knight Enterprises?

“Um,” I stuttered.

“I know about your situation, Angela, and I can help. I can help with your father’s medical bills.”

My head spun. Alarm bells rang in my mind.

How does he know so much? What does he want from me?

“I’ll pay for everything. I’ll make sure your father is taken care of. You just have to do one thing for me.” He sounded so genuine, but a hint of desperation crept into his voice. He gathered himself, staring right into my eyes.

“I need you to marry my son.”

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CHAPTER 2

Dark Desperation

Emily frowned as she watched me dig into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in my pajamas, my hair tied up in a messy bun.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Super,” I said through a mouthful of chocolate.

She sighed, grabbing her own tub of ice cream from the freezer. She sat next to me, stuffing a spoonful of vanilla into her mouth.

“Spill,” she demanded.

“I’m just really stressed out,” I admitted. “My dad’s in the hospital, and we’re going to have trouble paying the bills. I just had my interview with Curixon, and I’m afraid that I messed it up, and…” my voice faltered.

And a certain billionaire made a ridiculous request the other night.

But I didn’t want to tell Emily.

How could I?

“You didn’t mess it up,” Em assured me. “You killed it, right? You told me yourself.”

“I thought I did,” I said. “Now I’m not so sure.”

It was true; I’d really hit it off with the interviewer. Curixon was a great company, and I was hoping I could finally put my engineering degree from Harvard to good use. I’d spent the last few months working part-time at Em’s flower shop.

She even let me live with her in her apartment.

I’d be totally screwed if it wasn’t for her.

“You’re a lifesaver Em,” I began. “If it weren’t for you letting me stay here—”

“Kill the dramatics,” she said before I could thank her again. “You know you’re allowed to stay as long as you want. I just don’t want to see you waste your life sweeping the floor of my flower shop when you could be working somewhere like Curixon. Even if you do have random adoring fans coming into the shop. You’re too smart for that, Angie.”

My heart skipped a beat.

Em didn’t recognize Brad, then. Thank God.

“Anyway, I’m off.” Em got up, throwing her spoon into the sink and the empty tub of ice cream in the trash. “Don’t mope around too much.” She slipped on her shoes, and before I knew it, she was gone.

I was alone.

My mind drifted back to the other night. Honestly, I thought it was all some kind of crazy dream. But when I scrolled through the contacts of my phone, his name was still there.

Brad Knight.

I crawled out of the living room and into my bed, curling up into a ball. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift back to that night…


“What?!” I scrambled away from Brad, putting some space between us. “Is this some sort of joke?”

He watched me, shaking his head to himself.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I got ahead of myself. Please let me explain.”

I looked behind me. The doors to the hospital weren’t very far away. I could make a run for it if I had to.

Besides, there was something about him that made me want to trust him. He just seemed so genuine and kind. Maybe it was because of his age?

I nodded cautiously, gesturing for him to continue.

“After you were so good to me this afternoon, I knew I had to pay your act of kindness forward. I visited Em’s Flowers. That was where the bouquet you were holding was from.”

“Yes, but…”

“I saw it on the paper. And I spoke to Em, a lovely girl. And asked after you, Ms. Angela Carson. She said she knew you well. That you were in a small hospital in New Jersey because your father had just become ill.”

I nodded, still in disbelief at this whole conversation.

“And please, forgive the question, but your family doesn’t have the funding necessary to make his care…his treatment, his hospital stay, as comfortable as possible, do you?”

I shook my head.

“That’s where I can help you, Angela. We can help each other.” He smiled, his eyes disappearing in a crinkle of crow’s feet.

“So, you want me to marry your son,” I repeated his words from earlier. They felt alien coming out of my mouth.

Brad nodded.

I thought about what I knew about Brad’s son.

Xavier Knight.

I knew of him, of course. How could I not? He was a celebrity. Filthy rich and drop dead gorgeous.

Any girl would pounce at the chance to be his wife.

But he seemed to have a rebellious streak. I’d seen the headlines and articles about him, on and off for the past few months.

Sex.

Drugs.

Races.

He was wild.

Dangerous.

A shiver ran down my spine, but I couldn’t tell if it was from fear or excitement.

“But why me?” I asked. “I’m sure you could find a million girls that are more beautiful and more successful than I am. A better fit for your son.”

“You’re a pure soul, my dear. You may not know it, but you’re rare. I want the best for my son, as any father would. I think you can help him. I trust my instinct, and my instinct now says this will work.”

I blinked.

A pure soul? What does that even mean?

“But marriage isn’t just a piece of paper,” I argued. “You can’t just sign a contract and fall in love.”

“That may be true, but love is patient.”

“How do you know I won’t marry your son and then divorce him the next day?” I was playing devil’s advocate, but I needed answers to this confusing hypothetical.

Instead of getting his back up, he stepped closer to me and took my hand. His touch was warm and strangely comforting. “I don’t believe you’d do that, Angela. Like I said, your soul is pure. But if you need some sort of insurance plan, look behind you.”

I turned and saw the hospital, lit up by the street lamps outside. “Medical bills are no joke. Treatments, rehab, around-the-clock care. It all costs money, darling. If you hold up your end of the deal, I promise you, on my life, that I’ll hold up my end, too.”

My mind was racing. There had to be a different way.

“I have a second interview for this job tomorrow. I might be able to—”

“Angela,” he said, stopping me. “Do you know how much an overnight stay in the hospital costs? Seven-hundred dollars each night. A routine blood test is two-hundred-fifty dollars. If they, God forbid, have to use the defibrillator, that’s another fifteen-hundred dollars.”

I closed my eyes.

“Please. Please, stop. Just give me a minute to think.” I tried to organize my scrambled thoughts.

My dad.

The restaurant.

My brothers.

Years of debt.

A new job.

Curixon paid well. If I got the position, I could slowly pay things back.

Emily would let me live with her for a while longer if it meant saving my dad’s life.

How could I marry a man I didn’t love, much less even meet?

“Why are you even helping me?” I asked.

“When you came to me this afternoon,” he began, “you answered a prayer I’d sent up to the sky. You gave me strength when I needed it. So, now I’m here to answer your prayers. I’m here to give you strength, and this is how I can do it.”

I thought about it, my breath coming in shallow gasps.

Was I seriously considering this?

“Angela?” Brad asked softly.

“Can I at least have some time to think about it?” I asked. “This is a lot to take in.”

“Of course,” he said.

Brad handed me a business card, made of a thin, lightweight metal.

I guess paper is too plebian for a billionaire, I thought somewhat deliriously.

“Give me a call when you decide.” He smiled at me before turning away. “I truly believe that this will work, Angela. I truly, truly do.”


My phone rang, shaking me out of my daydream. I rolled over on my bed, checking the caller ID.

CURIXON LTD.

I bolted upright in bed, my heart hammering in my chest.

Okay, okay, okay, okay.

I took a deep breath.

“Hello?” I said, willing my voice not to shake.

“Hi, is this Angela Carson?” a female voice said on the other end of the line.

“Speaking.”

“Hi, Angela. I’m just calling to inform you that unfortunately we’ve decided to move on with other applicants for this job.”

“Oh.” My heart sank.

“We’ll be sure to keep your application on file should another position become available.”

“Uh, okay. Thanks.”

What else could I say?

After another few seconds of painful exchanges, I collapsed into my pillow, face first.

So much for killing the interview.

I felt tears of frustration spring to my eyes, and I let them soak into my pillow. There was so much more on the line then just paying the bills and having some spending cash.

My dad’s life was at stake.

I took out my phone, scrolling through my contacts.

I stared at Brad Knight’s number, my thumb hovering over the call button.

It’s not like I have much of a choice.

I hit the dial button, sealing my fate.

“Hello?” Brad picked up.

“Hi Mr. Knight, it’s Angela.”

“Angela!” He greeted me warmly. “It’s so nice to hear from you. So can I assume that…?” He left the question hanging.

I took a deep breath. I felt like I would be crushed underneath the weight of the words forming in my mouth.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

I felt something inside of my heart curl up and die.

“I’ll marry your son.”

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CHAPTER 3

Rude Awakening

I couldn’t believe she’d said yes. Even though I was a hyper-successful businessman, even though I was used to being treated like the self-made tycoon I was, I still found myself at a loss for words. There was something so impossibly innocent about her.

And yet, here she was, shaking hands on an arrangement that would force her life down a different path. I might be agreeing to pay her father’s medical bills, but somehow, I still felt indebted to her.

A few days had passed since I’d tracked her down at the small New Jersey hospital, and today was the day we were going to meet to discuss the finer details of the agreement.

I invited her for tea at the Plaza, and she readily accepted. And when she asked, “Which plaza?” I couldn’t help but laugh; the girl was unequivocally endearing.

I had just sat down at my usual table, the one in the corner with plush armchairs on either side. It was true that many of my associates frequented tea in this dining room, but this table, hidden behind floral arrangements and centerpieces, made it easy to avoid them.

I was just checking my emails when I felt the whole mood of the room change, like a gust of wind had entered a sauna, leaving everyone inside refreshed.

I looked up, and there she was. She stepped nervously into the room, looking around like a lost child. I couldn’t help but smile—and feel even more sure about my plan.

I woke up with a start this morning, surprised at how late I’d managed to sleep. I had tea with Brad Knight scheduled for the early afternoon. Man, I thought, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. What do people wear to afternoon tea?

A business suit?

A frilly dress?

I thought about asking Em for help, but then I’d have to explain who I was meeting, and why. And that felt like a whole other problem. So, instead, I slipped into my normal jeans-and-blouse attire, stomped my favorite black boots on, and headed out the door.

After consulting with Google, I’d learned that the Plaza was not actually a plaza but the Plaza Hotel. Frequented by rich people, the Plaza had a mix of business and celebrity guests.

And afternoon tea wasn’t just chamomile or orange pekoe. It was an event. I read all this on the train, looking down at the fading denim I had chosen to wear. I was out of my element, that much was clear. My nerves were multiplying by the second.

Would they even let me in?

As soon as I walked through the doors, the concierge ran out from behind his desk and put a hand up, stopping me.

“Madame?”

“Hi, yes,” I stuttered. “I’m here for tea?”

He just raised an eyebrow.

“I’m meeting Mr. Knight,” I said, not quite believing it either. But saying his name did the trick.

“Ah, perfect,” he said, his French accent making him all the more intimidating. “Follow me.”

As soon as he opened the dining room doors, I gasped. The decor was so meticulously arranged, so impossibly well coordinated, that I felt like just walking inside would ruin it.

I looked around, from table to table, feeling like an alien. And then I saw Brad in the back corner, standing up and giving me a wave. The concierge, still by my side, raised another eyebrow at me.

“Thanks for your help,” I said softly, and weaved through the tables of people I’d seen in magazines. Holy cow.

“Take a seat,” Brad said as soon as I was within earshot. He pointed to the plush chair across from him, and I felt like I had sunk into a cloud the moment I sat down. “Thanks for joining me.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” I responded, filled with nerves. “This place is incredible.”

“This?” he said, looking around. “It’s nothing.” But he had a smile on his face, letting me in on the joke. “It’s something you’ll get used to.”

“I don’t think I could.”

“Believe me,” he said, “the glitz and the glimmer wear off. There are only so many bottles of champagne you can buy before you realize you have no one you like to share them with. But that’s why you’re here.”

“You drink champagne at tea?” I asked, confused. Just then, the waiter came over, wearing a bow tie. I thought he must be a model. He looked at Brad.

“Mr. Knight? The usual?”

Brad gave him a swift nod, and he disappeared without so much as a glance toward me. But then Brad leaned forward, and I could tell he was gearing up to start The Conversation.

“So, Angela. What you might not know about my son, Xavier, is that he’s been through a lot. Growing up with me as a father isn’t easy, contrary to what many might believe. There’s a lot of pressure. And pressure in small confinements…”

“It explodes,” I finished. And then I felt blood rush to my cheeks. Had I just interrupted Brad Knight?

But he just nodded at me.

“Exactly. Xavier’s been all over the place lately. And I think you…you have the ability to ground him. To remind him of what’s important. That’s what I’m proposing.”

“So, I get married to your son, and you make sure my dad’s health…his medical bills…”

“Everything will be covered,” he said, with a certainty that made me trust him. “So long as you assure me our deal, our arrangement, will never be told to anybody else. Nobody can know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Not your family, not your friends. And not Xavier. Not my son.”

He handed me a multi-paged document. I saw it was a contract, with at least thirty clauses. And then my dad’s face flashed through my mind—the face I’d seen in the hospital bed, all pale and weak.

My mind was telling me to stop, to think it over, but it was like my hand was working on its own. I took the fancy pen out of Brad Knight’s hand and I signed the contract.

Then, hand still shaking, I took a sip of the steaming tea the model-server put before me.


Brad: 3pm, Central Park.

Brad: Wedding photo shoot.

Brad: Should I send a car?

Angela: That’s okay.

Angela: I’ll train.


It was a couple of days after the meeting at the Plaza, and Brad was texting me instructions. I had never heard of a wedding photo shoot before. Sure, I knew that brides and grooms took pictures at the wedding, but weeks before?

Brad had told me to wear whatever I was comfortable in, so I had assumed it would be casual. But as soon as I stepped my way out of Columbus Circle station, I saw Brad standing at the edge of the park. He was in front of a trailer—the kind of trailer actors use while they’re shooting scenes. He waved me over, genuine excitement on his face.

“Angela! Over here!”

“Coming!” I said at an awkward volume. Not quite a shout and not quite an inside voice.

By the time I crossed the street and was just a few steps from reaching him, he had the trailer door open. I could see the chaos unfolding inside.

“There’s a hair stylist, a makeup artist, and a stylist here for you,” he said, clapping his hands together. “Take your time. We’ll start shooting at the magic hour.”

“The magic hour?” I asked, because that was the most recent confusing thing he’d said.

“Between 4:30 and 6:30,” he answered. Then he whispered, “That’s what they tell me, anyways.”

Before I could respond, one of the stylish women inside the trailer pulled me in and shut the door behind her.


Xavier: Will be late.

Brad: That’s unacceptable, Xavier.

Brad: Xavier?

Brad: Son, answer me.


I couldn’t believe the face I saw looking back at me in the mirror. My hair had been piled on top of my head, in some complicated braided top-knot thing, with a couple loose strands framing my face. It looked fancy and laid-back all at once. So, in other words, it looked nothing like me.

It had taken the makeup artist, Sky, over an hour to do my face. My eyes were softly lined with dark brown ink, and the blush on my cheeks made me look all rosy. I never really wore makeup, aside from the occasional brush of mascara, and having this much on made me feel like I was playing dress-up.

“Are you read—?” Brad said, knocking at the half-open door. But he stopped in his tracks when he saw me.

I was in a white lace dress that went to my knees, and a pair of three-inch heels that gave me anxiety. I could barely walk without toppling over, but nobody around me seemed to care. Brad took in my appearance.

“You look beautiful,” he said in that paternal way, and I immediately imagined my own dad saying the same thing. I smiled.

He took my hand and led me outside, making sure I was treading through the grass okay. I almost fell over a couple times, but when I saw the photo shoot set-up in the park, I forgot all about the shoes.

There were lights strung through trees, a massive picnic blanket on the grass, and a buffet of charcuterie boards and chilled wine bottles on a table nearby. It looked like a spread on an HGTV show.

“This is…amazing,” I said, turning to Brad.

“Wait till you see the wedding,” he said, winking. It was unbelievable, all of it. I looked around again, realizing what was missing.

“Where’s Xavier?”

Brad hesitated—the first time I’d ever seen him unsure—but before he could get a word out, his attention shifted to something behind me. A massive smile enveloped his face.

“Excuse me, darling,” he said, and then he swiftly walked past me, going to hug his son.

That was when I saw him. Xavier Knight, all six feet, three inches of him. He was tall, dark, and handsome. That much was clear immediately. He hugged his father and then eyed me, every bit cool and collected.

Brad led him over to where I was standing, and he kissed me on the cheek with a soft, “Hello.”

“Hi,” I said, eyes on the ground, feeling my palms start to sweat.

The photo shoot itself was done within fifteen minutes. We were smiling and looking into each other’s eyes. Well, trying to, anyway.

Looking at him was kind of like looking into the sun. He had this intensity that was almost unbearable. But every time I looked away, the photographer just yelled, “Into his eyes!” And getting yelled at by a fancy photographer was even more embarrassing than the blushing that came whenever I made eye contact with my fiancé.

“This is going to impress The Times,” the photographer said when we were through. “I haven’t seen this attractive a couple since Jennifer and Brad.”

Even though I’d heard him clearly, I knew he couldn’t be talking about me. I was awkward, and my cheeks must’ve been the color of ripe tomatoes by now.

But then I saw Xavier walk toward me, a bottle of wine in his hand, and my nerves got even louder. He’s going to expect something from you. You need to do something wifely. But I’d never even had a boyfriend before, so, as my mind just kept racing, I was unsure how to proceed.

I saw Brad a few yards away, shaking the photographer’s hand, and he saw me looking and smiled. And then he saw his son coming toward me, and his smile grew. I turned back to Xavier, who was almost right in front of me.

“It was nice to meet you,” I said, because I felt obligated to say something but didn’t quite know where to begin. He smiled at me, but something looked off. The smile, there was something eerie about it. Like it was out of place on Xavier’s expression.

I looked at the ground, waiting for him to say something. But instead, he lowered his lips to my cheek.

“I don’t know who you are,” he started, his words hitting my ear right away. “I don’t know what you’re after. But I see you. Past the hair and the makeup and the dress. I see you.”

His lips brushed my other cheek now, and then he whispered more venom. “I see you, you gold-digging whore. And I hate you.”

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