His Hired Girlfriend

Alexandra Stewart is dating the man of her dreams. But there’s a catch. The date is a masquerade and her Mr. Hot-Choc is gay, or so she thinks...

Family oriented Alexandra Stewart, known as Alex to family and friends, is in desperate need of money for her dad’s heart surgery. She is stoked when gorgeous, billionaire Jayden McCartney unexpectedly barges into her life and offers to help. On one condition. She must pretend to be his girlfriend. One look at Jay tells her to run in the opposite direction. He is too good-looking, too successful, and too rich for her liking. When she is told Jay is gay and that his family is matchmaking him with a woman he doesn’t love, she feels sorry for him. Thinking that she’d kill two birds with one stone, Alex agrees to the proposal. Now, the only problem is how does she prevent herself from falling madly in love with Jay when the way he looks at her makes her heart tremble and his touches set her body on fire?


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3. Chapter 2

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND

 

Though her eyes were on her book, Alexandra Stewart, known simply as Alex to close friends and relatives, knew Mr. Hot-Choc was still watching her. Perhaps he wanted to sit next to Mary St. Clair, which wouldn’t surprise her at all. Her ex-classmate from high school was popular with everyone. Her catwalk figure, dark-brown curls, and bright-blue eyes stole the tongues right out of the mouths of the boys. You could say she was perfect, almost. If only she didn’t act like such a bitch, thinking everyone was beneath her and that no one else was as deserving of her perfect life.

Alex could never behave like Mary. She would rather hide in a closet or do dishes than flirt with a guy. In her world, she wasn’t pretty enough to have the confidence that seemed to exude from Mary.

And now Mary looked to be hitting on Mr. Hot-Choc. Again, Alex wasn’t surprised. The man was a hunk, tall and trim, blond-haired, and blue-eyed. She was sure she had never seen him around Dunedin. He walked around the long table with that loose-limbed grace usually only seen in big cats. A true-bred alpha male, he had that powerful aura about him that fairly screams, Don’t challenge me or I’ll eat you for breakfast.

Why did he watch her with such intensity? Who was he? Why was he with Peter and Mary? Were they friends?

And why name him Mr. Hot-Choc? Because he was damn hot, and at the moment, she was craving a cup of hot chocolate. Only she couldn’t afford one. Her budget was tight. Every cent went to support the family.

She nibbled her lower lip and tried to concentrate on her novel. Hercules Poirot uncovered the murderer, the motive was laid bare, and all from brilliant deduction of seemingly insignificant facts. She couldn’t figure out how, and now her mind, without warning, flipped to her dad, Jacob Stewart.

How long can he wait for a heart to be available?

His condition was getting worse. He needed a new heart and fast, as Peter, the young cardiologist and longtime family friend, told her. Finding a donor, however, was difficult. There was the option of going to a private hospital. There was no way they could afford that. There were the costs of flights to Auckland, the accommodations, the surgery, and of course, the heart itself. But they were desperate, and her mother, Mali Stewart, had been willing to apply for a personal bank loan just so Dad could get his surgery done more quickly.

Unfortunately, Alex had found out half an hour ago the bank rejected the application. The risk of nonpayment set against her modest income as a lab scientist and the mortgage on the family home was too much. On top of that, she had her student loan and family living costs. Then there was Timothy and Emma, her younger siblings. Tim was just about to finish high school, and a university education was on the horizon. Emma still had a couple years to go.

Alex grinded her teeth. It had been one thing after another. The company Dad had worked for closed the Dunedin factory and moved it overseas, chasing cheap labor in their quest of the almighty dollar. Jacob’s services were no longer required. What a bitter day that was! Dad went into overdrive trying to find another job. The stress led to his sudden massive heart failure six months ago, and it was a miracle he survived.

Alex hoped he had taken out health insurance, but as the ambulance sped him to the hospital, a frantic search of his papers revealed nothing. Too late now, she thought, but her mind wasn’t in the mood for staying on one subject today. She remembered the text message she had received from Peter. She took out her cell phone and read the message again.

 

Happy Bday, Alex. Bck frm Qtwn. Catch up? Coffee?

I hve a frnd u shuld meet. He can hlp u & yr dad. C ya soon :P

 

A grin creeped across her face. Peter always remembered her birthday, and his gifts were usually thoughtful. But lately he had been trying to find her a guy, which was annoying. It had started innocently enough with some simple suggestions. That was until last year, when he had arranged a blind date for her. The guy, Andrew something-or-other, seemed pleasant enough to begin with, although the evening was awkward. Then, as the hour grew late, he made a quite inappropriate move on her, and she slapped his face and left. When she told Peter about the incident, he ended his own short friendship with the man. Peter meant well, but she didn’t have the time for a boyfriend.

The light trill of a woman’s laughter drew her attention. Mary was giggling away loudly and enthusiastically, leaning closer to Mr. Hot-Choc. Alex couldn’t help but admire the way he was handling the situation. Mary was an outrageous flirt, confident the men around her would be enchanted, but he seemed unaffected. In fact, it looked as if he were playing the game and playing it well, in full control of the situation.

Suddenly, he caught Alex looking at him. She glanced away, her heart pounding and her cheeks hot and flushed with guilt. She pretended to be interested in her phone, but she felt his amusement from across the room. The urge to be somewhere else, anywhere else, was strong, but not as strong as her curiosity about this extraordinarily handsome man. Then a thought struck her, and she started texting.

 

Hey, Pete, sorry didn’t join u cos u wth frnds.

Coffee sounds good. Sunday? 2:30? SAN Cafe?

 

A push of a button and the message was on its way. She looked up and saw Peter checking his cell phone. He turned around to face her with a big grin, waved, and nodded. Mr. Hot-Choc watched her with interest, the gentlest of smiles playing with his lips. She was about to smile back when she noticed Mary’s hateful glare. The message was clear—Piss off! He’s mine! Alex blushed and dived for cover into the musings of the great Monsieur Poirot.

Ten minutes later, she glanced up. Peter, Mr. Hot-Choc, and Mary were heading toward the exit. Well, she should get going too. Back to work for her. She tidied up, wrapped the satchel over her shoulder, and picked up her half-empty cup of cold tea.

She was deep in thought, and her eyes saw only the threadbare carpet as she headed toward the conveyer. She slammed into a body. She was aware of cold tea seeping quickly through her jersey and chilling her skin. She felt strong hands holding her as she tottered. She looked up straight into a guy’s clear-blue eyes as he pulled her upright, almost in an embrace. Warmth and strength seemed to flow from him in an intoxicating mixture.

“Are you all right?” The tone of his voice was low, deep, and rich like the calm of a great sea gently tasting the pebbles on the shore.

She took a deep breath and was overcome with the scent of fresh spices floating on a spring breeze. Snapping back to reality, she stared in disbelief at the cold tea that had somehow transferred itself from her old jersey onto his expensive-looking jacket.

“Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to,” she said, her hands dabbing at his jacket. “I’m sorry.” She glanced up at him.

It’s him! It’s Mr. Hot-Choc!

She spiraled away into the fathomless depths of his cobalt-blue eyes. The color reminded her of those lovely summer days years ago at the farm where she used to work as a fruit picker. The sky was huge, and the air hummed with the busy sounds of insects. Suddenly, she could smell the sweetness of ripe strawberries. She remembered the feel of the long, soft grasses and the cool sprinkling of water against her skin.

The intensity of his gaze disturbed her from her reverie, and she blushed as she lowered her head and said, “I’m sorry. It was my fault. Let me get something to clean it off.” She picked up the empty cup from the floor and put it on the food conveyer belt. Then she grabbed a handful of napkins from a nearby table and started to pat his jacket dry.

“That’s okay.” He took hold of her hands again, softly but with insistence. The contact made her nerves jump, and excitement coursed through her body. It was a touch filled with intimacy and promise.

“It’ll wash out.” He noticed her discomfort and let go of her hands.

“I’m truly sorry,” she said, realizing he had an accent—an American one. “I’m not usually this clumsy.” She glanced up and saw him raise an eyebrow. “There. It’s kind of dry now.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

There it was again, that voice! A delicious shiver tickled its way along her spine. She cleared her throat. “Sorry,” she said, walking over to the bin and tossing the wet napkins in. “You have a good day.” She waved as she turned to the corridor.

He caught her before she had walked more than three steps. “Hey, you work here?”

She nodded. “Yeah, are you lost? Or has Peter deserted you? He sometimes does that.”

“No, he didn’t. I—um—what’s your name? Are you a friend of Peter?”

“Yeah, he’s a friend,” she replied and then hesitated for a moment. “It’s Alexandra, by the way. Look, I have to go back to work. To get out, just go this way and turn right and then down the stairs to the main reception.”

Jay nodded.

“Sorry again about the tea. As I said, I’m not usually this clumsy. Bye now,” she said, and then she was gone.

Jayden’s grin stayed with him all the way to the bottom of the stairs.

Her eyes were such a deep brown, like the color of melted chocolate. And she seemed sweet and delicious too! Something about those eyes drew him in and left him slightly breathless.

Peter was waiting for him by the reception desk.

“What took you so long?”

“I couldn’t find the bathroom after all,” Jay replied.

As they walked through the door of the hospital, Jay thought, So she’s not usually that clumsy, is she?

 

* * *

 

Alex gasped, her eyes squinting in the sudden darkness. Damn! She’d have to get the torch and replace that light bulb again.

She shook her hands out of the soapy water, wiped them dry with a clean towel, and headed around the benchtop. As she groped her way into the living area, she heard a giggle, which sounded much like Emma. There, floating in the darkness, was a chocolate cake, candlelight flickering across its surface. Her dad was holding it, and her mom, with her arm in his. Her best friend, Ruby Williams-Chan, came into view, removing any doubt over whose idea this was. Nikita Buchannan and Isabella Robertson were there, too. Everyone was wearing big, sloppy birthday smiles.

“Oh my God!” Alex murmured.

Emma giggled again, as though she couldn’t contain herself, and rushed to stand next to her. The strains of “Happy Birthday,” sung in the traditional arrangement of out-of-tune voices, filled the room. A sudden eruption of light revealed Timothy with his hand on the switch. Alex blinked away the afterimage.

Alex laughed. She hadn’t expected this, not after a busy day at work. Usually Saturday was rather quiet, but not this one. It had been hectic, and she was dead tired. She hadn’t expected anything more than a family dinner and then a good night's sleep. This was such a surprise.

She blinked back tears as she tightened her arms around her mom.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Mali said, squeezing her hard. “Now make a wish.”

Alex looked at the people surrounding her. Emma urged her to blow out the candles so she could have some cake.

“You guys didn’t have to do this,” emerged from her suddenly tight throat.

“Don’t be silly. It’s your birthday. We have to do this,” Ruby said, her braced teeth flashing with candle highlights.

“Please, just blow out the candles. We want cake,” Emma said.

“Make a wish, sweetheart,” Jacob said.

Alex looked at her dad, and her eyes flooded with tears. She only had one wish.

Dear Lord, she whispered to herself, I wish Dad would get his heart transplant and that he’d get well. She opened her eyes and moved closer to the flickering candles. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes—an image of Mr. Hot-Choc appeared in her mind. What? She shook her head to clear the image, confused.

“Come on, Alex, blow!” Nikita squealed.

She closed her eyes, lowered her head, and blew. All the candles winked out, followed by the sound of ever-so-slightly sarcastic cheering and clapping.

“So what’d ya wish for?” Tim asked.

Alex looked up at her younger brother. He was gorgeous, with jet-black hair, dark-brown eyes, straight nose, and Hollywood jaw. He’d break lots of hearts.

“Can’t tell,” she replied, hoping her wish would come true. It had to come true.

“So who wants cake?’ Mum asked.

“Me!” That’s Emma—surprise, surprise. “I’ll help you cut.” She’d make sure she got the biggest piece, too.

After the last of the cake crumbs had been licked from the plates, Alex’s friends dragged her into town, claiming she needed to have some fun. Soon she found herself in the Octagon with her friends and, it seemed, half of the student body and a large percentage of the town’s population.

The air was crisp and cold, and Alex was glad she chose boots, skinny jeans, and a blazer—much like her friends. If she had worn a flimsy dress and four-inch heels like most of the other girls on the crowded streets, she would have simply shivered and collapsed on the spot, quite apart from the fact that she wouldn’t be able to walk in those heels.

“Come on, Alex. You haven’t been in Electrica since Uni,” Isabella said with a pretty pout. “It’s time you had some fun, girl.”

Her friends dragged her across the street where a hundred or so people were stamping the cold away, waiting to get into the bar.

Alex laughed as Nikita filled the air with a youthful, “Yay!” She twirled around with her arms out. Nikita, Nikita! Always so bold and fun with her tomboyish ways.

The street was thronged with young people. A couple of guys were about to start a fight, pushing and shoving each other. Alex ignored a group of men standing nearby. Most were smoking and made no attempt to hide their obvious interest in her and her friends. Three of them were struggling to stay upright.

Half an hour later, they finally reached the door. Alex rubbed her eyes and blinked. That was what glaring down a microscope at red and white blood cells eight hours a day did to you—especially if you wore contacts. She should have put some eye drops in before she left the house, but the girls were in such a rush.

The huge doorman, probably Maori or Pacific Islander, waved Ruby, Nikita, and Isabella straight in. Not Alex. He asked for her ID. She couldn’t believe it. She just turned twenty-two, and the man wanted to see her ID? Did she look that young? It was both flattering and annoying. The doorman glared at her driver’s license for what seemed like a minute, the kind of look that said he knew it was a fake but couldn’t quite put his finger on why. He handed it back to her with narrowed eyes and stepped aside to let her through. Ruby gave her a look, but Alex just shrugged her shoulders as they rushed down the stairs.

Music thumped the walls of the lower ground floor. The place was bathed in darkness, lit by sudden flashes of neon light like lightning on a stormy night. Smoke snaked slowly across the dance floor, coiling around groups of dancers. A group of students squeezed past, bumping their shoulders. Alex glanced around. The people and the smell of sweat, perfume, and alcohol suddenly seemed overwhelming. But there was Nikita, who enthusiastically pulled her into the crowd. Alex didn’t have the heart to tell her friends she wanted to get out of here.

Down on the dance floor, they excused their way to the middle. Their hips were swaying and arms making shapes in the smoky atmosphere. Alex felt awkward. She hadn’t been clubbing for so long; she could barely remember any moves! Her gaze fell on Isabella, who seemed frozen in place.

“Oh, gosh,” Isabella said.

“Hey, what’s wrong, Isa?” Ruby shouted. “You okay?”

“Eric’s here,” Isa whispered.

Ruby glanced at Alex, but she only shook her head. “What?” Ruby shouted.

“Eric’s here!” Isa pointed her finger toward the end of the bar where a group of young medical students were ordering drinks. Isa’s crush, Eric, was with them.

“Go say hi.” Nikita nudged her.

Isa shook her head. “No! Don’t be silly, Nik.”

“Hey, what’s the harm? He used to be our high school classmate.”

Isa shook her head again. Nikita was about to drag Isa toward where Eric was when a troop of new arrivals bowled past them.

“Hey!” Nikita shouted in annoyance, but her voice was lost in the music. Then more people came in, shoving through and separating them.

Alex found herself in a dark corner. She had no idea where her friends were. She stood on tiptoe, but all she could see were the shadows of wide shoulders and heads. She wished she were taller. Not to mention her eyes were getting worse by the second.

Moving around the corner, she exited the dance floor and entered a quiet, dimly lit corridor. With the insistent boom-boom-boom of the music rattling the walls, she paid attention to her eyes. She blinked and rubbed a finger across the lids.

“Fudge!” she swore as the contact lens flicked out of her right eye. In a panic, she blinked harder and groped around on the floor. Then the other one did the same. “Oh, for God’s sake!” Now she couldn’t see anything. She was reaching into her handbag for her glasses when a hand grabbed her upper arm and pulled her around.

Though she couldn’t see the man properly, she knew instantly she was in trouble. She tried to shift away, to avoid him. He caught her other arm and pulled her closer. The odor of sour alcohol washed over her face, and she wanted to gag.

“Hey, sweetheart,” he breathed.

“Let go.” She shoved at his arm. He caught her again, his fingers digging painfully into her flesh.

“Come with me,” his voice slurred.

“Leave me alone,” she snapped, shoving ineffectually at his chest. “Get lost!”

“What’s that sweet—sweetheart? Co—come with me. Ya know ya wanna.”

“Get lost!” she shouted, her heart beating faster, a cold sweat beading her skin. She was frightened of what was going to happen. She was scared of what he was going to do to her. She felt trapped. “Ruby? Nik? Isa? Where are you guys?” Her eyes darted around, hoping to see her friends—or anyone, for that matter.

She was pushed against the wall as his face loomed closer to hers. Holy Crap! Alex didn’t want to be kissed by a drunken man she didn’t know. She felt his other hand fumbling at her belt. A sickening feeling rose in her stomach. Her head started to swim. She struggled one hand free and slapped him in the face. He didn’t let her go. He didn’t even flinch. A scream was building inside her when suddenly the man was yanked from behind and a fist crashed against the side of his face, cannoning him into a corner. His body crunched against the wall and slid to the floor, blood welling from his nose and lips.

“Leave her alone!” The voice was icy, hard, and commanding.

Stunned and shaking, Alex looked up at her rescuer. She could only make out a silhouette—a strong and powerful shape. The drunk man in the corner muttered something, but nobody was listening.

The newcomer gently pulled her to his side. The gesture was almost feral—she’s mine. It signaled not just sexually, but personally. His stance and the way he angled his body indicated his readiness and willingness to pursue more violent action. Alex could feel his strength radiating over her.

The drunk’s eyes widened. He held up his hands, realizing his mistake.

“No worries, bro. Thought she was free,” he mumbled as he pushed by them.

Alex squinted at her rescuer, but without her contacts or glasses, she couldn’t see any detail, even this close. She glanced down at the hand that still held her wrist. Odd that only moments before she felt frightened when she was alone with the drunken man, but now alone with this man, she felt safe.

She offered him a tentative smile. “Thanks.”

“Why are you here alone?”

There was that voice again! She could barely understand what he was saying. There was a hint of an American accent, familiar somehow, but the connection eluded her.

“I don't know—the loud music—the crowd,” she said. “And my contacts. I’ve lost my contacts. I can’t see properly.” She tilted her head. She couldn’t see his features. “I didn’t see that guy coming, that’s for sure.”

“Where are your friends?”

“My friends?” She touched her forehead hesitantly. “I’m not sure. I’ve lost them.” She shook her head a little. “I’m fine.” She lied, wanting to go home. She felt tired. There was still work tomorrow and then the meeting with Peter. A sigh escaped. “Can you help me find them?”

“Yeah, sure. Come on.”

Her hand was neatly enveloped by his as he led her toward the door. Ruby came rushing through, the music swirling around her. “Alex? Alex! There you are. Are you okay?”

Nikita and Isa were just a step behind.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Can we go now?’

Nikita gave her a look. “Yeah. I’ve had enough. Too many people here. No fun being shoved around.”

Isa looked at the rescuer and grinned. “Thanks for helping Alex find us. So you know each other?”

He nodded unseen in the darkness as Alex interrupted. “No, we don’t know each other. Now can we go?”

“Yeah,” Ruby said. “Let’s get out of here.”

As they made their way toward the stairs, Alex turned. “Thanks for everything.”

At that moment, Jayden wanted to pull her into his arms and comfort her, but he damn well couldn’t do that, could he? He was a stranger to her. She would think he was no better than that bastard he pulled off her. Why he felt this way toward her he didn’t know, except she was Peter’s friend—and possibly his future fake girlfriend.

He made sure Alex and her friends were safely out of the bar before he returned to Peter, Mary, and some of Mary’s friends sitting in the corner.

Peter asked, “Long line?”

“Yeah,” said Jay, not willing to tell the whole story. He picked up his BlackBerry and saw a message. It was from David Peterson, his executive officer from the head office in New York for his real estate company the J.M. McCartney Group.

 

Hey, boss, contract ready for you. Documents all sorted.

Need you to check and sign. Check your e-mail.

How’s the vacation? Hope to see you soon.

 

He leaned across to Peter. “Hey, I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

Disappointment flashed across Mary’s face, a slight blush reddening her neck.

“You all enjoy yourself. Bye, everyone. Nice to meet you all,” he said as he headed for the stairs.

Peter hid a smile at Mary’s discomfort. “See you guys at work,” he said, following Jayden out.

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