“If I ever decide to leave the matchmaking business, I’ll have to consider taking up being a wedding coordinator.” Meg Rosenthal lifted her flute glass and smiled at the passing bride.
“If you planned this little party, you wouldn’t be standing beside me sipping champagne.” Eliza Billings, first lady of the state of California, rested a hand on her six-months-and-counting baby bump. She wore her pregnancy with the grace and elegance of a woman due her title. Long, sleek black hair trailed down her back in dark contrast to Meg’s short blonde bob and amber eyes. “You’d be running behind Shannon reminding her of the cake cutting and bouquet toss.”
Shannon Redding, now Shannon Wentworth, was the bride du jour. She had married Paul Wentworth, the Republican candidate for the governor seat. Eliza’s husband, Carter Billings, would vacate said post in a little over a year and a half. Paul and Shannon Wentworth had a wedding arrangement due to last two years, less if Paul didn’t obtain the popular vote. The voting public wanted their politicians married and stable. Since Paul was ready to run for office, but not marriage, he hired Alliance to find him a suitable bride. With any luck, after Paul spends four years in office, the people of California would have faith in the man’s ability to hold the governor’s office as a divorced man.
Eliza was right. Meg would rather set up temporary marriages such as Paul and Shannon’s than pick wedding colors and venues. Her job was much easier and much more lucrative.
Paul came from a long lineage of political families. He had money, influence, and charm. Unfortunately, his taste in women often left him on the front page of the tabloids instead of the Wall Street Journal.
Shannon also happened to come from a family of lawyers and wannabe politicians. Much to the dismay of her family, law wasn’t something she was willing to study. Photography was her passion. Pictures didn’t pay the bills, however, and her family wasn’t willing to give her a trust fund if she squandered away her life taking snapshots.
Shannon was the exact client profile Alliance loved to recruit. Intelligent, lovely with a certain poise one was born to, and determined to live by her own set of rules. A prenuptial agreement, along with a private contract that only Alliance and Paul’s lawyers knew about, linked the happy couple long before the wedding day. Paul would set Shannon up as his wife, take care of her every need during their marriage, and when they walked away after two years, Shannon would have six million dollars in her bank.
She wouldn’t need her family’s trust fund.
Meg stepped aside when Carter swept up to his wife’s side and slid an arm around her waist. “Loveliest woman in the place,” he said loud enough for Meg to hear.
Eliza snuggled closer to her husband as color filled her cheeks. You’d think after over six years of marriage, with a baby on the way, a woman wouldn’t blush with a compliment from her husband, but apparently Meg was wrong.
The sound of someone ringing the side of a glass filled the reception hall. The attention of the guests moved to the couple, who were obliged to kiss every time someone started ringing.
Meg watched with interest as Paul set his glass down and reached for his bride. With the exception of herself and the Billings, everyone here thought the couple had married for love and forever. The kiss in the church had been brief. Sweet, but brief. What would it be now?
Paul removed the glass from Shannon’s hand and offered a playful smile before he lowered his lips to hers.
Meg started to count. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand . . . Shannon’s palm gripped his lapel . . . four one thousand . . .
“Interesting,” Eliza whispered when they broke off at six one thousand.
Shannon carried a rose-colored blush, and Paul stood back regarding her with a whole lotta heat in his eyes.
Meg leaned toward Carter. “You might wanna remind your friend of the rules.”
Carter shook his head and lifted both hands in the air. “Not my job.”
The rules were simple. Alliance arranged marriages, not sex. If the temporary contract resulted in true feelings or even temporary feelings, Alliance didn’t deal with child custody. Period. As Samantha, or Sam as her friends called her, the owner of Alliance, had put it . . . if the couple decided to live married life past the time the contracts were set up, they should enjoy their happily-ever-after and name the first child after her. Or in this case, Meg . . . since she’d been the one who had arranged the marriage.
Carter pulled Eliza onto the dance floor and Meg made her way over to the bride. She knew that as the night wore on, their time in the same room would be limited.
“That looked very cozy,” Meg whispered once she pulled Shannon away from listening ears.
Shannon fanned herself; the smile she’d worn all day didn’t fall. “He was a player before becoming a politician.”
Meg tapped her shoulder. “You remember that.”
“You don’t have to tell me. Certain things are expected here. Our honeymoon will be easier.”
“Where are you going?”
“There’s a private resort in the Keys, very posh. Plenty of celebs and people who want their private life private choose the destination as a getaway. Security is top-notch, and all the clients are prescreened.”
“Prescreened for what?” And who would pay to go on a vacation where you had someone checking your background?
“Reporters, those who might leak information to the public on who is there and who they might be with . . . that kind of thing. We have a freestanding two-bedroom bungalow on the beach. Very private. There won’t be any press there to catch . . . or not catch anything.”