Troy paced the empty lot next to his parked car, earning annoyed honks from other drivers wanting to park in that spot. He checked his watch, again, and wondered where the hell Alyssa was.
If she'd just let me pick her up, as I'd suggested, he grumbled mentally. They'd exchanged text messages back and forth in the run up to this evening, working through the logistics for tonight. He'd offered to pick her up, arguing that it would look appropriate as his fiancé if they arrived together but she had insisted on driving herself and countered that they could meet at the carpark lot around the block and walk to the restaurant together.
He was about to check his watch again when he saw her pull into the carpark. A minute later she hopped out of her VW Golf and smoothed down her dress as she approached him.
He drank in her appearance, from the gold sling-back heels, the ruffled hem of her navy dress at her knees, the tailored fit of the bodice that hugged each curve, the modest neckline and the simple gold necklace settled at her throat before her gaze met his. Her auburn hair had been pulled back from her face but the long locks hung over her shoulders in soft waves.
Troy's eyes narrowed. "That's not the dress I sent you."
"Why hello Troy, how nice to see you too," she pursed her wine-coloured lips as she reached his side and he noticed that the dress she'd chosen was even worse than he thought. While it looked passably acceptable from the front, at the back the neckline dipped below the arch of her spine, revealing an expanse of creamy skin he was found himself itching to touch. Subtle, but so sexy.
Troy cursed under his breath then said, "I'm trying to make a good impression here, I thought we were clear on that."
"It's not inappropriate for a dinner party," Alyssa argued.
"What was wrong with the dress I sent you?" he asked, holding his arm out for hers.
"You mean that ugly khaki coloured sack?" She looped her arm through his and they started walking toward the restaurant.
"I was going for conservative and stable," he said. "Was it the wrong size?"
"No, just the wrong style. You're marrying a woman, not a tree stump. If I show up looking like Ms Fuddy Duddy in a shapeless khaki dress next to your dapper self, no one is going to buy this stupid sham engagement, because no one would believe a guy like you would choose a girl like that."
Troy opened his mouth to argue but then closed it. She was right about this. She had to look the part to make this believable and no one would believe him if she turned up looking overly conservative.
Seeing him at a loss for words, Alyssa grinned triumphantly. "I told you to trust me on this, especially when it comes to wardrobe. If we're going to this, we have to go all in or no one will believe it."
"You're right," his shoulders dropped and he forced himself to relax. "I'm sorry. I am just nervous. I don't usually get nervous."
"I don't usually pretend to date someone, so this is new for both of us," Alyssa joked.
He blew out a breath and tried again. "Thank you for doing this."
"Thank me later when its over."
"You look beautiful, actually."
She stopped as though she wasn't expecting the compliment and he noticed a pale blush colour her neck and cheeks. "Thank you. You don't look too shabby yourself."
"We should get our stories straight," Troy said as they resumed walking.
"You mean how you suddenly acquired a fiancee?"
"It will definitely come up," Troy nodded grimly.
"Well I figured we could be truthful as far as saying that we dated in college for some time. Then we lost touch when you went to law school and I went to London. We ran into each other recently at an event and started seeing each other again," Alyssa supplied.
"That's good. Keeping it as close to what really happened will be most believable."
"At which point exactly did we fall madly in love with each other and decide that it would be a good idea to get married?" Alyssa asked.
"Well for me, it was when I saw you that night at the event," Troy said theatrically, a grin tugging his lips. "I hadn't seen you in years and suddenly there you were, an angel on the stage. And when we spoke all those feelings from years ago came rushing back and I knew right then and there that I had to make you my wife immediately."
Alyssa laughed. "So you started to call me day and night, begging to marry me until I caved and said yes?"
"Can we not make me sound like a desperate loser?" Troy groaned.
"Aren't you?" she teased.
"How about I showered with you with gifts and romantic poetry until you were utterly captivated. Then one night, when you least expected it, after all, it'd only been 2 weeks since we had started seeing each other again, that I brought you to dinner at St. Laurent's and popped the question. You teared a little but of course you said yes."
"Have you considered a career in creative writing?" Alyssa asked. "Because, really, that sounded like the sort of cheesy romance fluff that women would lap right up. I don't even like poetry."
"Then come up with whatever you want so long as it's believable."
"We should talk about some rules around unnecessary intimacy. I mean I get that we are pretending to be a couple but can we also pretend I'm super prudish and don't like public displays of affection?" Alyssa suggested.
"Oh come on, where's the fun in that?"
"I'm serious. I have a boyfriend who would be very uncomfortable about this situation, I don't want to make things worse."
"You told him, huh?"
"Just that I was helping a friend with a work thing. I didn't specify the pretending to be your girlfriend part. He'd go nuts."
"I can't say I'd blame him, I'd probably be the same," Troy admitted quietly. Glancing at her, he said, "I'm sorry again for putting you in a difficult situation."
"Thanks." Alyssa smiled. "So we are agreed on that?"
"No unnecessary intimacy," Troy repeated, nodding. "But there will have to be a certain amount of touching, like hand holding and maybe a kiss on the forehead or two, just for show at the appropriate moments. Is that ok?"
"I can deal with that." Alyssa nodded. "So what's the occasion tonight?"
"One of our clients was pleased with a merger deal our firm brokered so invited us to dinner."
"I thought you are a divorce lawyer," Alyssa frowned.
"I am. The guy's wife has just filed for a divorce so my team is handling that part. That's the real kicker tonight, my bosses are harping on about me having a steady girlfriend for the firm's image but we are entertaining a client and the mistress he cheated on his wife with."
"Jeez," Alyssa shook her head, but mentally filed the information for later. "Is there anything in particular you want me to do or say?"
"The wives always come to these sorts of things so try to get friendly with them. Mr Gordon always says that it's the wives who have their husband's ears so if you make a good impression on them, chances are they'll continue to work in our favour afterwards."
They were across the street from the restaurant now and Troy hesitated. This was it. He had spent the week planning the details and trying to make sure everything was perfect, but he was nervous as fuck.
They were about to lie to all of his co-workers and convince them that they were engaged. If they pulled it off, Troy was almost certain the head of department position would be his. He didn't even want to think about what would happen if they got caught out.
He felt a squeeze on his arm and realized Alyssa was watching patiently while he had an internal panic attack. Instinctively, he found her hand and squeezed back. Her silent show of support was enough to bring Troy out of his head and he sent another prayer of thanks to universe that this girl had agreed to his hairbrained scheme. He shot Alyssa a smile and still holding her hand, brushed his thumb over her knuckles, feeling the smooth ridges of her fingers under the pad of his thumb.
Suddenly he then stopped short, dropping her hand. He patted his pockets, frantic for a brief moment, before finding what he was looking for.
Troy reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box.
Alyssa's breath caught as he popped open the top, revealing a sparkling round diamond nestled between two smaller bezel cut diamonds set on a platinum band. He slipped the ring out of its place and stuffed the box back in his pocket.
The diamond caught the streetlight and sparkled at her. Alyssa suppressed the urge to gasp.
"Please tell me you just happened to have an engagement ring lying around for this occasion?" Alyssa joked, hoping to lighten the mood.
"Actually, I did," Troy said. "It was my grandmother's. She left it to me when she died."
"I bet this wasn't quite what she had in mind when she gave it to you."
Troy's dark eyes flashed. "No, and I never thought I'd give it to a girl in this way either. I had pictured champagne and flowers in my mind."
He held out his hand for hers. Alyssa forced the fog around her brain to disperse. Mechanically, she raised her left hand and held it out to him. Holding it steady, he positioned the ring at the tip of her fourth finger.
"Aren't you going to get onto your knees?" Alyssa choked out. "This hardly makes for a good proposal story."
"Pretend that there were flowers and champagne involved."
"After a romantic dinner at St. Laurent?" she pressed.
"So utterly cliché, Matthews," Alyssa shook her head. "I'd expect more from you."
"I'll be sure to let Lucas know," he said with a smirk.
"You're an ass," Alyssa said, feeling like she'd been slapped. She really did not want to think about Lucas right now.
Troy simply shrugged then slid the ring easily on the fourth finger of her left hand. It fit perfectly, to both their surprise. He didn't let go of her straight away, gently turning her hand to the side and taking in how it looked on her.
"Do you like it?" he asked softly.
Was it appropriate to say yes? It wasn't even a real engagement, did it even matter if she did? Surely she was being paid enough to pretend like she adored whatever ring he chose for the bluff.
But he was looking at her in earnest, as if trying to read her expression, and she couldn't bring herself to pretend otherwise. "It's stunning."
"The details are important right?" Troy seemed nervous all of a sudden. "They're all going to want to see the ring when we say we're engaged."
"Of course." He was still holding her hand so she gave another a gentle squeeze with her fingers. "Let's do this."
Troy shot Alyssa a smile and still holding her hand, led her into the restaurant.