The Kept Woman(10)

By: Susan Donovan

Jack figured that, in contrast, Samantha Monroe probably knew just the standard things about him—the knee injury and the teachers' convention debacle. Of course, she also knew he was pathetic enough to pay someone to pretend to adore him.

"They're late, right? I bet she's changed her mind."

Stuart checked his watch. "They are not late and I doubt it. I think Samantha Monroe is anxious to sign on the dotted line."

"Am I actually doing this?" Jack pushed back from the conference table, stood, and sent his leather chair rolling halfway across the room. He headed to the wet bar, his mind racing.

Allen Ditto had pulled the rug out from under Hoosier politics with his surprise announcement that he would not seek another term. He was seventy-nine years old and had served for nearly three decades but was still sharp as ever. Most everyone, Jack included, assumed that Ditto would serve until he died. But the old man shocked everyone at home and in Washington with his announcement that he was done.

"I never intended to serve so long that I'd have to be carried out of here," Ditto had said in his press conference. "I prefer to leave on a high note, giving Indiana voters an opportunity to think long and hard about my replacement."

Yeah, well, the old fucker could have at least given Jack a heads-up—Ditto had been one of his father's best friends.

"Could you grab me a bottled water while you're over there?" Stuart asked.

"Sure." Jack sighed. If only he'd seen Ditto's move coming, he could have been more prepared for this. It was Ditto's fault he had to rent a fiancee.

Jack brought the bottled water to the conference table and leaned his palms flat on its surface. He hung his head and laughed at himself. Hell! He didn't even want a fiancee. If he'd wanted one, he would have gone out and found one on his own! It wasn't like he was actively avoiding finding a bride; it's just that he'd never encountered one he could envision in that role, let alone the rest-of-your-life that followed.

And now here he was, about to enter into a legal agreement with a female he'd never met, who'd be paid to pose as the woman who'd finally gotten badass Jack Tolliver to settle down.

His mother was going to shit a brick when she found out what he was up to.

Jack laughed out loud.

"What's so funny?"

He looked up. "It just dawned on me that Samantha Monroe and I will be admitting in advance and in writing that we're using each other. How refreshing." Jack smiled and stood up tall, patting his friend on the shoulder. "Stuart, this might very well turn out to be the most honest relationship I'll ever have with a woman in my life."

Just then, the conference room door opened, and Stuart's secretary ushered in Jack's last resort. She looked taller and wider than her pictures, and her hair was blond and spiky instead of the soft auburn curls he'd expected, and her face—holy hell! Her face was far more severe than he remembered and Jack was just about to slap himself when the defensive end of a woman moved into the room to reveal Kara, followed by the woman he'd been waiting for.

Jack went completely still. Samantha Monroe was cute. Real damn cute. She looked wholesome, just like the photos Kara had shown him. She seemed nervous, and he couldn't blame her. Her eyes were huge and blue and they scanned the room, seeking him out, and when her gaze clicked with his he swore it made a noise that everyone could hear.

It reminded him of the sound of an air lock being sealed, and he suddenly had trouble breathing.

Samantha Monroe lowered her chin and gave him a nod accompanied by what might have been the most disarming smile he'd ever seen. It conveyed embarrassment, humor, and cunning. As Stuart introduced everyone, Jack reached over the conference table to awkwardly grab Samantha Monroe's cute little hand. That's when he started to buzz all over. He was still buzzing as he lowered his body into his seat, realizing a nanosecond too late that his seat was still somewhere across the room.

Jack rebounded from the floor, easing into the chair Stuart had kindly wheeled back into place. His knee hurt like hell. He saw Kara roll her eyes. He heard the Amazonian attorney snicker. And he looked over to see Samantha Monroe gaze at him with pity, like she was about to reach in her purse, pull out a Band-Aid, and apply it to his boo-boo.

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