This was the last place she expected to spend Christmas. Florida in the winter? Not even a hint of snow? Eighty degrees on Christmas Eve? Insane.
Nina Crenshaw clamped her lips together and walked beside her boss, dragging her suitcase up the flagstone path to the opulent, Tuscan style home.
Jack Trescott lifted his dark brows in question. “You ready?”
Nina harrumphed. “Ready to spend the holidays with a family I’ve never met? Ready to pretend to be your date?” She made sure there was a heavy dose of sarcasm in her tone. “I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
He shook his head and ran his hands over his face…his gorgeous, green-eyed, hateful face. Aggravation radiated from him. Too bad. She was annoyed too. They weren't going to fool anyone. Who would believe a good-looking, successful CEO would date her, someone from the accounting department, someone he’d never said more than a good morning to, when he could have any gorgeous, sophisticated woman he wanted? Nina definitely wasn’t the gorgeous cover-model type Jack Trescott normally went for. Although not exactly plain, she was far from a cover model. At best, she was passably attractive—shoulder length blond hair, brown eyes, and a body that leaned toward pudgy if she wasn’t careful.
“Look.” Jack gritted his teeth. “We had a deal. You’ve been bitching ever since we left Chicago. Will you please at least pretend you’re happy to be here? Happy to be with me?”
The waning sun highlighted gold flecks in his green eyes she hadn’t noticed before. And they were looking at her like he really cared, like he really wanted to be with her. For a moment, she allowed herself to believe that was true. That she was spending Christmas with her lover’s family…
Then reality bit her on the behind, and she remembered she was there because the ogre—Jack the Jerk as they fondly referred to him at the office—had told her if she didn’t come with him to his brother’s wedding, she would have to work Christmas day. If she went along with him and pretended to be his girlfriend, she could have the following week off, with pay. Her options were limited, and either choice meant missing Christmas at home with her family. At least this way, she’d have an entire week in Oklahoma with her mother after the holiday. Nina consoled herself with that fact and forced a smile.
“Okay, fine. I’m sorry. From this moment forward, we’re a happy couple and I’m thrilled to be here.”
The corners of his mouth lifted and adorable, sexy dimples appeared. Oh my….
He took her hand, and the unexpected, warm contact nearly buckled her knees. Dammit. An attraction to her boss had not been part of the deal. She would put the kibosh on that immediately. She forced strength into her legs and walked with him to the door.
At Jack’s knock, a woman with hair as dark as his and flawless skin opened the door. Her face lit with pleasure. “Jackie, I’m so happy you’re here.” Jack released Nina’s hand when the woman embraced him. She stepped back and turned to Nina. “Hello dear, I’m Rita, Jack’s mother. I’m glad you could come. Although I’m surprised I haven’t heard about you. Jack normally doesn’t bring—”
“Mother.” His tone was sharp with exasperation. “I didn’t mention her because we haven’t been seeing one another for very long. And, I don’t tell you everything about my life, especially my love life.”
Nina grinned, feeling suddenly lighthearted at Jack’s discomfort.
His mother smiled and patted his cheeks. “Of course you don’t. Come in, please. Leave your luggage in the foyer and I’ll have Simpson take it up. Everyone is in the gathering room.”
Jack snatched Nina’s hand again quickly, as if he expected her to bolt, and they followed Rita through a marble-floored foyer into a gargantuan room with vaulted ceilings and gold-upholstered furniture.
Fortunately, by “everyone” she’d only meant three others--a man who was an older version of Jack, a stunning auburn-haired woman with the body of a playboy centerfold, and a tall, thin guy with glasses and hazel eyes. Rita introduced Nina to Jack’s father, Calvin, his brother’s fiancée, Suzette, and his brother, Mark.
Once the introductions were made, Jack sat on a sofa next to his mother and tugged Nina down beside him.
Nina plastered a smile on her face as people she didn’t know discussed a wedding she didn’t want to attend. A Christmas wedding at that. What kind of narcissistic princess got married on Christmas day? Nina predicted years of conflict between anniversary versus Christmas plans, and experienced twisted pleasure at the thought. Even though she didn’t normally consider herself a spiteful person, being blackmailed by her boss and forced to miss Christmas with her own family put her in a somewhat vindictive frame of mind.
She was so wrapped up in her dismal thoughts that it took a few moments to become aware of the discomfort floating in the air. Jack tensed beside her each time Suzette spoke directly to him. Nina caught one moment where Suzette looked at Jack like he was a bowl of cream and she the hungry cat.
Was Jack fooling around with his brother’s fiancée? It wouldn’t surprise her. His reputation for being a player was no secret at the office. But surely even Jack the Jerk wouldn’t stoop this low?
“There’s going to be a pre-wedding party this evening,” Rita announced. “You two have a few hours to rest up before it starts. Dinner is at eight, then dancing.” She looked at her son. “Jack, I’ll let you show Nina to the guest room. We’ll see you at eight, unless you need something before then.”
Nina forced another smile on her face and thanked Rita, then allowed Jack to escort her from the room.
Once they were out of earshot of Jack’s family, she yanked her hand from his and whirled on him. “What the hell was all that between you and Suzette?”
He frowned. “All what?”
“I saw the covert glances, the flirty smiles. You weren’t exactly subtle. Are you messing around with your brother’s bride-to-be?”
His frown deepened. “First of all, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Secondly, it’s none of your business.”
She planted her hands on her hips and glowered at him. “It’s my business if I’m going to be thrust in the midst of some kind of…tryst. This is way beyond my scope of worldliness. You should have brought one of the many women you cavort with. They wouldn’t bat an eye.”
He chuckled. “Tryst? Cavort? For God’s sake, what decade are you from? I told you when I first brought up the idea, my regular dates would have read too much into this. Can you imagine me escorting someone I’m sexually interested in to a family wedding? Nothing says commitment like that.”
A shaft of hurt took her by surprise. She shoved it away, grasping onto her anger with both hands. Why should she care if this egomaniac wasn’t interested in her that way? “Well, I’m so glad you were able to find someone you had no sexual interest in.”
He had the sense to appear contrite. “Look, I didn’t mean it that way.” His voice softened and a hint of regret shadowed his eyes. “I just meant the two of us are not actually involved. This works out perfectly. We can pretend we’re a happy couple, but trust me, I won’t try anything.”
Oh, she had no doubt about that. Not because she “trusted” him but because, why would he?
“Fine.” Her muscles tensed with anger. “Let’s just get through the next twenty-four hours the best we can.”
He grinned. “That’s the spirit. See you in a few hours, and we’ll go downstairs and show my family how crazy we are about one another.”
She rolled her eyes. Crazy was right…this was never going to work.
Check back tomorrow for Chapter Two of Christmas Sham...
Check back tomorrow for Chapter Two of Christmas Sham...