Falling For Her Fiance
by Cindi Madsen
Danielle and Wes have been best friends since college, so when Wes needs a date for his sister’s wedding and Dani needs a partner for her company’s retreat, they devise the perfect plan: a fake engagement to get through both events unscathed. Adrenaline-junkie Wes can prove to both his ex and his family that he’s well and truly moved on, and serious-minded Dani can prove to her boss that she’s worthy of the promotion he seems to only want to give to a family-oriented employee.
But amid the fake swoons, fake kisses, and forced proximity, neither expects the very real feelings that develop. There’s nothing more dangerous than falling for your best friend…but what if the landing is worth the fall?
Title: Falling For Her Fiance
Author: Cindi Madsen
Genre: Category – Contemporary
Release Date: January 2013
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62266-815-1
Praise for Falling For Her Fiance:
“Sexy and sweet, with characters that work their way into your heart.”
– Victoria James, author of The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby
© 2013 Cindi Madsen
Apparently, even spammers were bound and determined to shove her lack of a love life in her face today. Dating sites filled her junk folder. She could View Beautiful Singles or WINK at singles now—free for three whole days! Did winking usually cost more? Dating a millionaire would probably be nice, but the Be one of our cougars! from CougarDating.com stung. Hello? She wasn’t that old.
There was also an exclamation-marked e-mail about increasing the size of something she didn’t have. But apparently, it was a very pressing matter.
Dani clicked the box to select them all, hit the delete button, and watched them disappear. If only she could do the same to her work inbox. There were approximately thirty e-mails about the upcoming retreat now that more details had been announced, most of them in screaming caps and containing multiple exclamation points, because one just didn’t convey enough freakin’ excitement.
Of course they’re excited. They all get to take their significant others and get in good with the boss.
While the company would never call the retreat couples exclusive, the one they’d had two years ago proved that being part of a duo meant more one-on-one time with the boss and his wife. Wayne Bridges always bragged about how Bridges Marketing, Inc. was a family-friendly business—he also had this whole competition-makes-you-stronger stance—and she knew one very pompous jerk had been promoted over her as a result, even if Wayne would deny it.
And maybe Mr. Pompous’s marketing degree had edged him in, too, but Dani had done most of the work for every account they’d taken on together. All the work and none of the credit. But with a new senior exec position opening up, she was going to change that, no matter what it took. Because medical bills were expensive, and unless she won the lottery soon, the only way to get extra money was to move up, preferably ASAP. Mama was now living in Florida with Abuela Morales, taking over the physical care as well as working long hours to try to pay for everything. Dani was helping financially as much as she could, and between the two of them, they were still barely squeaking by every month. Mama told her not to stress, that it wasn’t her responsibility, yet she felt the constant burden weighing her down. When she’d gotten all the scholarships she could for college—both for academics and basketball—and still came up short, her family had pooled their money so she could go. Abuela Morales, her maternal grandmother, was the one who’d given her the most.
Dani drummed her fingers on the desk, trying to figure out how she would push past the fact that she couldn’t participate in most of the physical competitions at the retreat without a partner and still get the promotion anyway. Not to mention the fact that she tended to freeze up around her boss, like his presence cut off the part of her brain where full sentences were stored.
Her cell phone rang, Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” filling the air. That song meant her day was about to get better, and it even had her cracking a smile when she answered.
“Tell me I don’t have to go,” Wes said. He was the one who’d programmed JT’s song as his assigned ringtone the last time they were together, claiming the tune was “so me.”
“You don’t have to go,” Dani said.
“Thanks. And thanks for not asking what you’re giving me permission to miss.”
Dani stood and leaned against the wall of her gray cubicle. From this viewpoint, she could see the setting sun through the window of the office she hoped to soon make hers. “You’re talking about your sister’s wedding. And like I said, you don’t have to go, but you should, and we both know you’re going to.”
Wes’s sigh came over the line. “If you ask me, she let me off the hook when she picked my ex-fiancée as her bridesmaid. Today when I was home, Audrey and my mom both gave me these pity-filled looks every time they mentioned her name. Like I’m not over her. And I am.”
“Of course you’re over that self-centered princess.” Okay, so her description might be a little harsh, but she knew Wes needed to be reminded why he should be over his ex, Sophie, even though Dani wasn’t sure he actually was. In fact, she sometimes worried he never would be, and that was a shame, because she’d never been good enough for him in the first place. The girl was way too high maintenance for Wes, all demand with no compromise.
“Enough about all that boring crap. How’s life on your end?” he asked.
Dani told him about the retreat and how she felt all this pressure to stand out but didn’t know how she was going to compete in boat races when everyone else had a partner. “Not to mention all the sad looks I’ll get—a few of my coworkers’ wives always want to set me up, too. A couple of months ago I told everyone I was dating someone just to get them off my back. If only I had an actual guy to go with me.” She used her thumbnail to scrape away the remnants of her last manicure. “Guess you don’t happen to be free at the end of this month.”
She’d thrown it out as a joke, but the tingling of an idea was working its way through her head, and she started to wonder if it might be brilliant. She snuck back inside her cubical and lowered her voice, even though most everyone had already left for the day. “Wes, fly over here and go with me. I’ll tell them… I’ll tell them you’re my fiancé or something. We’d rule all the physical competitions, I wouldn’t be so nervous with you there, and I’ll finally get Wayne’s attention.”
The other end of the line was dead silent. She glanced at the display to make sure they were still connected and then put the phone back to her ear. “I know it’s kind of extreme, but I haven’t seen you in forever and—”
“I’ll be your fiancé for the retreat if you’ll be mine for Audrey’s wedding,” Wes said. “I was going to try to find a date, but this would be so much better. It’ll stop the pity-filled looks, and you know me well enough to pull it off—plus everyone’s always suspected we were more than friends anyway. It’s the perfect way to show Sophie I’ve moved on since she dumped me.”
Dani bit her lip. “I’m not sure taking off work right before I go up for a promotion is—”
“You never take time off. Come on, Dani. I need you here.”
She was also thinking about the cost for the flight to North Carolina, but Wes had said he needed her, so how could she skip it now? Not to mention, it’d been way too long since they’d seen each other—calls and texts just weren’t enough with her best friend.
The more she thought about it, the more this seemed like the perfect solution for both of them. She could picture showing up at the wedding with Wes to see Sophie’s lips twisting up in that tight-ass way they always did. She imagined sitting behind the desk in the office across from her cubical, giving instructions instead of doing all the grunt work. And even better, she pictured the extra zeros behind her paycheck every month and finally being able to help her family without barely scraping by.
“I’m getting down on one knee right now,” Wes said, but she could also hear the crunch of chips, meaning he was most likely sitting on his couch, spilling crumbs all over himself. “Danielle I-forget-your-middle-name Vega—”
“You don’t know my middle name?”
“You’ve got, like, three of them, and they’re all in Spanish.”
“I’ve only got two, and names are names.”
“Oh, like you remember mine.”
“Okay, fine, you win this round. Now if you’d stop busting my chops, I’m trying to ask you something here.” The sound of more crunching chips came over the line. “So like I was saying…Danielle two-middle-names Vega, will you do me the honor of pretending you’re going to marry me?”
She laughed, a lightness filling her chest. Of all the stunts they’d pulled, this one would take the cake. First the wedding cake, and then that awful bakery kind they passed around the office whenever one of her coworkers had a birthday or, you know, blinked right. Even though Wes couldn’t see her, she went all out, throwing a hand to her chest, batting her eyes, and doing her best over-the-moon-with-a-side-of-ditzy voice. “Yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!”
As the plane descended toward Charlotte, North Carolina, excitement danced through Dani’s stomach. She leaned forward in her seat and peered out the tiny window. She’d grown up a few hours away in Greensboro and had gone to Wingate University, which was about forty minutes south. The green trees, all the historic sites, and the fact that Wes was here—it felt like coming home.
The flight attendant did the last check through the cabin and Dani started bouncing her leg—until her seatmate, a crabby older woman, glared. She probably doesn’t have a best friend, period, much less one she’s dying to see.
Or should I say fiancé? Dani shook her head. Being engaged to Wes was an odd thing to think about. When they’d met freshman year over their nerdy love of history, they’d become instant friends. They studied together, hung out most weekends, and occasionally crashed at each other’s places if they were too tired or too tipsy to make it home.
People always assumed they were a couple. No one seemed to get that they simply loved each other without being in love, and that Wes was still the one friend who made everything better, who was by her side when she needed him most.
Finally the wheels touched down and they taxied toward the gate. Anticipation tingled through her veins, and it was all she could do to patiently wait for her turn to exit. Whatever happened with their fake engagement and his sister’s wedding, this was going to be the vacation she so desperately needed. Already her body felt lighter, her head clearer.
As soon as she got off the plane, she zipped past the other people, weaving in and out, practically running now. She walked past security and scanned the faces. Nope. Nope. Nope.
She turned toward the voice, her feet already propelling her forward. Wes met her halfway, scooping her up in a giant hug. She squeezed him so tightly the brim of her baseball cap ended up crooked. She took a step back to get a better look at him. His wavy, dirty-blond hair was longer than usual, and from the looks of it, he hadn’t shaved in weeks. He grinned and his pale blue eyes lit up—good to know he was as excited to see her as she was to see him.
“I almost didn’t recognize you with all the scruff. You look like you should have an ax over your shoulder and a big blue ox for a pet.” She ran her hand down his face and his whiskers tickled her palm. “Do girls go for that these days?”
“Not many, unfortunately,” he said, but she knew that wasn’t true. Although Wes hadn’t had a serious relationship since Sophie, there was never a shortage of girls after him.
He took her suitcase from her. “Audrey and my mom are both on me to shave and get a haircut before the wedding.”
They started toward the exit and he eyed her get-up of T-shirt, yoga pants, and neon yellow sneakers. “If I’m Paul Bunyan, you must be Workout Barbie.”
She elbowed him in the gut. “Hey, I was flying and bloated. Give me a break.”
He flashed her a grin and draped his arm over her shoulders. “I’m so glad you’re here. I figured we’d do a little hiking, and then I’ve got something special planned for tonight.”
Something special usually meant something she’d end up regretting later. “Have you talked to your family yet? Do they even know I’m coming to the wedding?”
His grin widened. Wes loved to be the center of attention, loved a good prank, and this was a mixture of both. Of course he hadn’t warned them. “They’re going to flip. But we don’t have to deal with anyone until tonight after dinner, so we’ll worry about that later.”
Over the phone this had seemed like the perfect solution, something that would be simple. But now that she was here, thinking of meeting Wes’s entire family, a ball of nerves was forming in her gut. Since she wasn’t actually going to marry him, it shouldn’t matter whether his family liked her or not, should it?
She pressed down all her worries the best she could and shot him a smile. “Actually, I’m more worried that my fiancé looks like a hobo.”
Over the past few weeks, all the stupid wedding stuff had been throwing Wes off, leaving him constantly on edge. Okay, so if he were being honest, it was mostly the Sophie thing. He still couldn’t believe Audrey had made his ex a bridesmaid. Yes, the reason he’d met her was because she and Audrey were friends, but it felt like choosing sides, and since he was the one dumped on his ass without any more explanation than “It’s just not going to work,” Audrey should’ve chosen his. To add insult to injury, about a month after breaking off the engagement, Sophie had shown up at the bar he frequented with some dude hanging all over her.
But the instant he and Dani were hiking up the trail, none of that mattered anymore. Especially now that they were nearing the Buzzard Rock outcropping, where they could sit in the sun and get a view of the entire area.
Dani blew out a breath. “This is your idea of a small hike?”
“Anything not requiring rappelling gear is small.”
She shook her head, but she was smiling. He knew she’d be down for however big or small he decided to go, which was why she was his favorite person to just hang out with. It was hard to explain their relationship to people—especially to his guy friends, who couldn’t believe he’d never “hit that.” It wasn’t like he’d failed to notice that Dani was naturally pretty, her Mexican ethnicity giving her an exotic look he’d seen plenty of dudes drool over. A fact that Sophie had definitely noticed. They’d argued about his relationship with Dani all the time.
What people didn’t get, though, was that being with her was effortless. They liked the same things, laughed at the same jokes—she just got him in a way no one else did. When something good or bad happened, she was the first person he wanted to call, and it had been like that pretty much since the day he’d met her.
At the top, he pulled out two water bottles and handed one to Dani. She took a swig and looked over the valley. Her shoulders relaxed and she closed her eyes, tipping her head to the sun. He knew she’d like this place as much as he did.
“I miss this,” she said. “I should find trails in Arkansas, but it takes so long to get out of the city, I never have anyone to go with, and I just don’t think it’ll ever feel like home the way North Carolina does.”
“So move back.”
She looked at him, head tilted. “Oh sure, just leave my job and move back. Easy for you to say.”
“What’s keeping you? You moved out there because of Steve, and now that he’s out of the picture, you might as well come back home.” She turned away, so he couldn’t see her expression. He knew the idiot she’d followed to Arkansas had hurt her, and he hoped she wasn’t staying to try to get back together with him. Wes had felt the urge to punch the guy from day one, but he’d tried to get along with him for Dani’s sake. If he ever saw Steve again, he was going to enjoy telling him exactly how much of a loser he was, though.
“My job’s in Little Rock.” She plopped down, and Wes sat next to her. She picked up a handful of dirt and let it drift through her fingers. “How about you? Still glad you left your desk job to fly helicopters?”
“Hell yeah.” When he’d first considered quitting his perfectly good software sales job to train for his pilot’s license, his family had flipped. Dani was the only one who’d told him to go for it if that was what he wanted. She also said that if everyone else disowned him and he ended up broke, he’d always have a spot on her couch to sleep and her fridge to raid.
“I love my job,” he said. “Love being up in the air, flying over the city in a matter of minutes. And now that I’ve got more piloting experience, I’m thinking of starting my own tour company. Something a little more exciting—all the places in North Carolina people don’t normally see with historical facts made more interesting by yours truly.” He grinned at her to drive the point home. “Maybe even places where people can cliff dive or go white water rafting—spots that are nearly impossible to get to any other way.”
He’d been thinking about it for a while, but he’d kept it in, not wanting to hear how crazy or unrealistic the idea was. Buying a couple of helicopters and opening up your own company wasn’t exactly cheap. Dani twisted the lid on her water bottle and nodded, one corner of her mouth turned up. “Sounds perfect for you.”
His heart swelled, excitement leaping up to take the place of all his doubts. “Yeah?”
“I can totally see it.” She tucked her leg up, twisting toward him. “Remember that first night we studied at your apartment instead of the library? When we planned out our futures? You told me you were going to be the next Indiana Jones—not an actor, but the real thing. Who played guitar in a famous band on the side. And after talking for hours without managing to actually get any of our assignment done, I knew we were destined to be more than just study partners. Even though I was pretty sure you were half crazy.”
“I was crazy? You said you wanted to teach history at a high school and coach basketball.”
Her lips curved into a smile, nostalgia filling her features. “You promised you’d bring all the archeological items you dug up to my classroom so I’d be able to get a peek and share them with my students before the museums fought over them.”
“I might’ve had a few too many beers that night.” What he didn’t confess was how nervous he’d been to have her at his place that first time, back when he was trying to impress her for other reasons.
She laughed. “Probably another reason we didn’t get any work done that night.” Her smile slowly faded. “I can’t believe I ended up working for a marketing firm of all things.” There was an inexplicable look in her eye that he thought might be regret. “Sometimes I want to go back to our college days, when it seemed like all it would take to get where we wanted to be was a piece of paper that said we had a degree. I miss that kind of sunny optimism.”
“What if you get that promotion you’ve been talking about? Will you love your job then?”
“I’ll be able to pay my bills every month, and I love the idea of that.” She pulled her knees to her chest and folded her arms over the top. “It might not be my dream job, but I’m good at it, and I deserve to be promoted.”
“I’m sure you do.” He took in her profile, feeling a twinge of regret himself. “I just wish you didn’t live so far away.”
“Me, too. But maybe when I’m making more money, I’ll be able to visit more often. And you being a pilot and all, I’m sure you could swing a few trips? When you’re not too busy flying people to new adventures and being a rock star, of course.”
“Oh, yes. In the one venue that the band regularly plays in because we know the owner, we’re marginally more popular than the jukebox that plays hits from the seventies. My rock-star status is right around the corner.” He leaned back on his hands, the tiny stones digging into his palms. “We’re actually performing Saturday night—Audrey doesn’t know I’m playing the night of her wedding or she’d kill me, but it’s super late, so she’ll never have to know.”
“Finally, a show I can go to. I haven’t heard you play with a band in years.”
“Be prepared to be completely underwhelmed.”
She laughed. She had the kind of infectious laugh that made him lighter and happier, even when he was feeling like crap. And for the first time in a long time, he didn’t have to worry about the fact that his girlfriend would be pissed over his hanging out with Dani.
Being fake engaged to her was going to be a blast.