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Always loved you
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Orchard was traded for a shipyard. Her dad wanted money, and Heath wanted to expand his export business. Orchard was thrown in to sweeten the deal. At eighteen, she knew how to bargain for her life but not her freedom. Five years later, she wants out of the marriage. It’s no longer convenient for her heart, and if she stays one more day, she might not be able to find the courage to leave.
While Heath is willing to give Orchard everything—space, money, his body—he’ll never release her from their vows. To keep her, though, he’ll have to figure out how to turn the marriage of convenience into a marriage of love.
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A marriage of convenience should be just that—convenient. It should not involve worry, anxiety, or frustration. I drum my fingers against the table and stare at the empty seat at the end of the stretch of mahogany. It seats twelve and most of the time when my dear wife is seated with me I’m staring at the top of her head because she refuses to look up. Still, I get to look at the top of her head and that’s enough. It has been for the last five years since I bought the girl from her deadbeat father in exchange for a shipping business he’d been running into the ground.
The deal was that I would get someone on my arm to shield me from the gold-diggers, social climbers, and generally any female that wanted something from me that I didn’t want to give time, affection, or attention to. In return, Orchard would get every little luxury money would buy. It was a business transaction when she was eighteen and I was twenty-eight. She was barely an adult and so I left her alone. For five years.
Five interminable years.
I am a reasonable man. I ask very little from her. She has to keep me updated of all of her activities outside of the home. She is not, under any circumstances, to circumvent her bodyguard. And, at the end of every day, at the moment when the clock turns seven, she is to have her evening meal with me. It is the only time I require her presence. It is now five past the hour. I stare at the laptop screen that displays the city map. There should be a pink dot on that map denoting Orchard’s location. That dot is missing and has been missing for the last fifteen minutes.
“Have you found her yet?“
David, the head of my security, doesn’t answer immediately, which tells me they have not.
“Fire him.” If one man can’t do his job, there’s no reason for him to be on my payroll.
“Yes, sir,” David replies.
“I want her in her chair within the next five minutes or you’re fired as well.”
A beep followed by a soft chime filters into the dining room. I slam the laptop shut and David leaps forward to swipe it off the table. Just in time, too, because my wife blows through the doorway a few seconds later, missing her long trench coat and wearing an unfamiliar sports hat instead.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says, walking toward her seat at the end of the table. A staff person appears and sets out her salad.
“Are you? I wasn’t watching.” I pick up my fork and pretend to eat the greens the staff laid out precisely at seven as I ordered.
“The bottom of my shoe fell off,” she says. “I got my foot stuck on a grate and the heel just came loose.” She lifts up her foot and shows off her ruined sneaker. “I should probably stop buying shoes at the drug store.”
A muscle in my jaw twitches as I try earnestly to control my temper. She has access to millions of dollars and refuses to touch it, preferring to work as a low-level manager for a grocery store chain. It’s a starter job, she explained when she accepted the offer after graduation last year. “That might be a good plan,” I manage to get out. I wave my hand for David to leave and go fire her bodyguard.
“Hey, by the way, the guy you had tailing me did a good job, but he lost me because when I went to the bathroom at the station, a girl had bled through her white pants so I gave her my jacket. She forced her Yankees cap on me.”
David coughs into his fist. This is the first time that Orchard has brought up her tail. I wasn’t sure she knew she had one.
“If he couldn’t find you with the hat, he shouldn’t be charged with the important task of protecting you.” I set my fork down and wave for the plate to be taken away.
“His girlfriend just had a baby so he needs the job. You can’t be that heartless.” We stare at each other over the long expanse until she sighs. “Right. You are that heartless. Whatever. Fire him then. I’ll just write a big severance check from my bank account that you’re always harping on me to use.”
I’m surprised my molars are still intact given how often I’m grinding my back teeth together. “You’re free to use the money however you wish. It is your money, after all. That said, when you have children, the support for them will come out of that fund.”
“Are you freaking kidding me?” She slaps her hand on the table, startling the staff that arrived to serve the steak. “You aren’t going to support your own children?”