Saturday Excerpt: An Unlikely Bride for the Billionaire by Michelle Douglas
Would you agree to pretend to be a billionaire’s girlfriend? Mia Maydew does in An Unlikely Bride for the Billionaire by Michelle Douglas! Could she soon be planning her own walk down the aisle with her faux beau? You’ll have to read the book (available now from Harlequin Romance) to find out, but get a sneak peek with the excerpt below.
Mia wants to keep her head down—not get distracted by handsome billionaire Dylan Fairweather! Asked to plan his sister’s wedding, she can’t say no to his other outrageous proposition: pose as Dylan’s girlfriend so he can assess his future brother-in-law’s intentions!
Shy Mia doubts anyone would believe he’s dating her…especially if they discovered the secret past she’s worked so hard to leave behind. But as she grows closer to Dylan, Mia might just find she’s more than worthy of this prince among men…
‘But—’ Mia stared, aghast, at Gordon Coulter ‘—that’s not my job!’ She was a trainee field officer, not a trainee event manager.
Her stomach performed a slow, sickening somersault at the spiteful smile that touched his lips. Gordon was the council administrator in charge of Newcastle’s parks and wildlife—her boss’s boss and a petty bureaucrat to boot. Plum Pines Reserve fell under his control. And he’d made no secret of the fact that he’d love to get rid of her—that he was simply waiting for her to mess up so he could do exactly that.
She did her best to moderate her voice. ‘I’m in charge of the weed extermination project that’s to start on the eastern boundary. Veronica—’ the reserve’s ranger ‘—insists it’s vital we get that underway as soon as possible. We’re supposed to be starting today.’
‘Which is why I’ve handed that project over to Simon.’
Every muscle stiffened in protest, but Mia bit back the objections pressing against the back of her throat. She’d worked ridiculously hard on fine-tuning that project, had gathered together an enthusiastic band of volunteers who didn’t care one jot about her background. More exciting still, she and Veronica had planned to take a full botanical inventory of the area—a comprehensive project that had filled Mia with enthusiasm. And now she was to have no part in it.
‘This isn’t up for debate, Mia.’
Gordon pursed his lips, lifting himself up to his full paunchy height of five feet ten inches. If it was supposed to make him look impressive, it failed. It only drew her attention to the damp half-moons at the armpits of his business shirt.
‘You have to understand that teamwork is vital in an area as poorly funded as ours. If you’re refusing to assist the administrative team in their hour of need then perhaps this isn’t the right organisation for you.’
She wanted to know where Nora was. She wanted to know why Simon hadn’t been given this job instead of her.
‘The Fairweathers will be here at any moment, so if you are refusing to assist…’
‘Of course I’m not refusing.’ She tried to keep her voice level. She couldn’t afford to lose this job. ‘I’m surprised you’d trust me with such an important assignment, that’s all.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘If you screw this up, Maydew, you’ll be out on your ear.’
She didn’t doubt that for a moment.
‘Naturally Nora will take over once she returns.’ His lips tightened. ‘She assures me you’re the only one who can possibly deputise in her stead.’
She bit back a sigh. Nora wanted her on the events team, claiming she was wasted as a field officer. Mia had plans, though, and they didn’t involve being part of the events team.
Where was Nora?
She didn’t ask. She refused to give Gordon the satisfaction of telling her it was none of her business. She’d ring Nora later and make sure she was okay.
The receptionist knocked on the office door. It was Nora’s office, but Gordon co-opted it whenever he decided to work from Plum Pines rather than his office at Council Chambers.
‘Mr Coulter? Mr Fairweather is here.’
‘Send him in.’
Mia moved to the side of the desk—she hadn’t been invited to sit—fighting the urge to move to the back of the room, where she’d be able to remain as unobtrusive as possible.
‘Mr Fairweather, it’s delightful to meet you!’ Gordon moved forward, arm outstretched, greasy smile in place.
Mia repressed a shudder.
And then she glanced at Dylan Fairweather—and had to blink, momentarily dazzled by so much golden…goldenness. Dear Lord, the papers did Dylan Fairweather no justice whatsoever. Not that Mia spent much time reading the society pages, but even she—hermit that she was—knew that Dylan Fairweather was considered one of Australia’s bright young things. Earlier in the year he’d been named one of Australia’s Top Twenty Eligible Bachelors.
If steal-your-breath sex appeal was one of the criteria then Dylan Fairweather had that in spades! Too-long dark gold hair and sexy designer stubble coupled with a golden tan had Mia’s fingers curling into her palms. At six feet two he towered over Gordon, his pale blue business shirt and sand-coloured chinos achieving a casual elegance Gordon had no hope of matching.
Nor did his clothes hide the breadth of his shoulders or the latent strength of powerful thighs. All that power and flaxen golden brilliance should have made him look terrifying—like a prowling lion. But it didn’t. He looked…he looked like a prince out of a fairytale.
Mia tried to tear her gaze away, but couldn’t. Never, in all of her twenty-five years, had she been in the presence of someone so physically perfect.. She remembered one of the women in prison describing how she’d felt when she’d first laid eyes on Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. That was how Mia felt now.
Swallowing, she shook herself, appalled at the way her heart raced, at the craving that clawed at her belly. Pulling in a breath, she reminded herself that she wasn’t some primitive savage, controlled by greed and impetuous impulses. Not any more.
When Gordon had said she’d be taking care of the Fairweathers today, she’d been expecting a blushing bride and her aunt, maybe an attendant or two. She hadn’t been expecting the bride’s brother.
His pleasantries with Gordon exchanged, he turned to her and offered his hand with an easy, ‘Dylan Fairweather.’
She took it automatically, appreciating the just-firm-enough grip and almost melting under the unexpected warmth of his smile.
You’re not the melting type.
‘Mia Maydew. It’s nice to meet you. Carla is taking a call. She should only be a moment.’
‘That’s no problem at all.’ Gordon ushered Dylan to a chair, frowning at Mia over his head.
Dear God! Had her paralysing preoccupation been evident for all to see? Heat climbed into her face. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Gordon took his chair. He still didn’t invite Mia to sit. ‘Unfortunately Nora can’t join us today. She sends her apologies. She was involved in a car accident on her way to work this morning.’
Mia couldn’t prevent her involuntary intake of breath, or the way her hand flew to her abdomen, just below her breasts, to counter the way her stomach jumped. Startlingly brilliant blue eyes surveyed her for a moment, and while the brilliant colour might have the ability to distract a mere mortal, Mia sensed the shrewdness behind them.
Dylan Fairweather shifted ever so slightly on his chair. ‘I hope she’s okay.’
‘Yes, yes, she’s fine, but her car is apparently a write-off. I insisted she go to the hospital for a thorough examination, though.’
Mia closed her eyes briefly and let out a breath.
‘Wise,’ agreed Dylan—Mr Fairweather.
‘In her stead—as a temporary measure, you understand—you’ll have Mia here to run you through wedding options. Anything you’d like to know—ask her. Anything you’d like to see—she’ll show it to you. I promise that nothing will be too much trouble.’
Easy for him to say.
She straightened. It wasn’t the Fairweathers’ fault that Gordon had thrust her into the role of Assistant Events Manager. She’d helped Nora out before with weddings and corporate events. She’d do everything she could to answer the Fairweathers’ questions and help Carla plan the wedding of her dreams.
‘If you’d like to take it from here, Mia?’
‘Certainly.’ She forced a noncommittal smile to her face. ‘If you’d just hand me the Fairweather file from the top drawer of the desk, I’ll take Mr Fairweather through to the meeting room.’
She was tempted to laugh at the disgruntled expression that flitted across Gordon’s face. Had he really thought she didn’t know about the file? She’d helped Nora compile parts of it earlier in the week. Did he hate her so much that he’d risk a lucrative account, not to mention some seriously good publicity, to undermine her? The thought killed any urge to smile.
She had to counsel herself to take the file calmly, before leading Dylan Fairweather out of the office to the meeting room. Her pulse skittered and perspiration gathered at her nape. She preferred working with animals to people. Better yet, she liked working with plants. With over one hundred and seventy hectares of natural bushland to its name, it should have been relatively easy to avoid human contact at Plum Pines Reserve.
‘Can I get you tea or coffee…maybe some water?’ She gestured for Dylan to take a chair at the table, doing what she could to stop her fingers from shaking. This account had excited Nora enormously and, Gordon aside, Mia wanted to do her best for her boss.
From across the table Dylan eyed her closely, a frown in his eyes, although his lips remained curved upwards in a pleasant smile. ‘I think a carafe of water and three glasses would be an excellent idea.’
He thought she needed a drink of water? Dear Lord. She scurried away to fetch it. Did her nerves show that badly? She usually came across as a difficult study. She took a couple of deep breaths to compose herself before returning to the meeting room.
‘Nora is a friend of yours?’ he asked when she was seated, taking charge of the carafe and pouring a glass of water before pushing it across the table to her.
It hit her then that he’d misread her nerves as worry for the other woman. She hesitated. Would Nora consider Mia a friend? ‘Nora is a close colleague. I like her a lot.’
‘The news of her accident was a shock?’
She wasn’t used to anyone being interested in her reactions. ‘It was. I’m relieved it’s not too serious.’ When he continued to stare at her—which did nothing to slow her heart-rate—she forced her lips upwards. ‘I’ll call her later to check if there’s anything she needs. It’s kind of you to be so concerned. Now, let me show you the material Nora and I have gathered in relation to Ms Fairweather’s wedding.’
‘Please—you must call us Carla and Dylan.’
Must she? There was a certain protection afforded by the formality of Mr and Ms.
The customer is always right.
She bit back a sigh. If that were the case…
‘Dylan.’ She tested the name on her tongue. It emerged without any effort at all and tasted like her favourite brand of dark chocolate—flavoured with a bite of sea salt. His smile was her reward, making her forget the rest of her sentence.
‘See…it wasn’t so hard, was it—Mia?’
He made her name sound like a song.
He smiled. ‘I can see why Carla requested you work on her wedding’
She opened her mouth and then closed it, blinking. ‘I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else. I’m afraid I don’t know your sister, Mr Fair—uh… Dylan.’
He stared across at her, but in the end he merely nodded and let it go without challenge. It was as if someone had cut a string and released her.
She glanced down at the folder in an effort to collect herself. ‘Do you know…?’ She cleared her throat. ‘Do you know where Carla would like the ceremony to take place?’
He glanced towards the door, as if hoping his sister would magically appear. ‘Beside some lily pond. It’s apparently where she and Thierry met.’
Right. Mia jotted a note down on her pad.
Blue eyes twinkled across the table at her when she looked up at him again. ‘Aren’t you going to gush about how romantic that is?’
Should she? Was gushing part of the job description?
He laughed as if he’d read that thought in her face, pointing a lean tanned finger at her. ‘You, Ms Maydew, are not a romantic.’
He stared at her as if he knew her. It was utterly disconcerting. She had no intention of letting him know that, though.
She pointed her pen back at him. ‘I am, however, an excellent worker.’
‘Perfect.’ His grin widened. ‘You’ll at least provide a port of sanity amid all the craziness.’
That made her lips twitch. She’d watched TV programs about Bridezillas. Was that what they had on their hands with Carla?
‘Hallelujah!’ He raised his hands heavenwards.
‘I finally managed to get a proper smile out of you.’
She stared at him, nonplussed. Why should he care one way or the other whether she smiled or not? Was smiling also part of the job description?
Darn it—it probably was! Give her animals and plants any day.
She forced her lips to curve upwards.
‘Oh, dear me, no! On a scale of one to ten, that’s not even going to score you a three.’ He donned a mock commentator’s voice. ‘And Mia’s smile has only scored a two point one from the Romanian judge!’
She had to choke back a laugh.
He leant his elbows on the table. There was the whole width of the table between them, but somehow he seemed to bridge that distance without any effort at all. Maybe it was a combination of his height and breadth? She could make out the tiny laughter lines that fanned out from his eyes. She suspected Dylan laughed a lot. She noted the dusky eyelashes…ridiculously long and tipped with gold…and the firm fullness of his bottom lip. She’d bet he kissed a lot too. A pulse started up in the centre of her chest.
‘I suspect, Mia Maydew, it’d be really something to make you laugh.’
She couldn’t explain why, but she found herself jerking back as if he’d just propositioned her.
To cover her confusion, she folded her arms and narrowed her eyes. ‘I have your number, Dylan Fairweather.’ She used his full name in the same way he’d used hers. ‘You’re an incorrigible flirt. I suspect you can’t help yourself.’
He raised his hands. ‘Guilty as charged! But it’s flirting without intent…just a bit of frivolous nonsense.’
His smile made her stomach tumble. ‘Then why…?’
‘Because it’s fun.’ His grin widened and she swore he had the devil in his eyes. ‘Aren’t you going to flirt back?’
She couldn’t help it. She laughed.
* * *
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