My lies? Impeccable.
My heart? Cold as ice.
My only job? To convince her what we had was as real as the diamond I intended to place on her finger.
The battle was someone else’s. I was merely a soldier, recruited by a wealthy stranger who made it unapologetically clear that my future—and everything I’ve ever worked—for depended on the successful completion of this mission.
I was prepared for war.
But I wasn’t prepared for Love Aldridge …
“You know I still don’t agree with any of this,” my sister, Lo, sighs into the phone.
“Yep.” Pretty sure she made that crystal clear at least thirty-eight times before I left the apartment earlier this week.
“You have my support but not my approval,” she says.
She said the same thing when I enlisted in the Army a decade ago.
“Ah. Good to know.” As of a few days ago, I had nothing from her but dirty looks and rolled eyes.
“You’re a good person, Jude,” she says. “And I know you think you’re doing this for the right reasons. I know you’ve justified this a hundred times already. But just … be careful.”
“You guys should come check out the place sometime,” I change the subject. What’s done is done. The train has left the station. There’s no getting off, no turning around. “There’s tons of room for the girls to run around. I bet they’d love it.”
Lo pauses, and I can just picture her hand smacking across her forehead because she knows I’m redirecting the conversation.
I begin to add that there’s a fountain outside they’d love, but I’m interrupted by a knock at the door. Pulling my phone from my ear, I check the time.
This is odd.
“Lo, can I call you back?” I ask.
“Someone’s at the door. I’ll call you back, all right?” I hang up before she has a chance to ask another question, and then I head for the door, squinting through the spyhole and smirking when I see a pretty little blonde standing on the other side of the door.
Taking a closer look, I see she’s wrapped in a fluffy white bathrobe.
“Hey,” I say, greeting her a moment later. “What’s going on?”
She gathers the lapel of her robe in her left hand, the other one holding onto the knot of her belt. “I’m so sorry to bother you. I know it’s late. I, uh, I have an issue and I’ve called the super, and all I got was a voicemail that said it could take twenty-four hours for them to get back to me. I called a plumber, but the quickest anyone could get out here would be two hours from now, and by then my entire apartment might be flooded so—”
“I drew myself a bath, walked away for a few minutes, came back and went to shut off the water, only the water won’t shut off,” she says. “It’s like the faucet is broken or something.” She worries the left corner of her bottom lip. “I’m so sorry. Maybe you don’t even know how to fix something like this, but I just thought I’d ask.”
“Yeah. I can take a look for you,” I say. Her expression softens and I follow her across the hall, where she leads me through her foyer, past the living room, down a hallway, and across her master bedroom to an all-white bathroom. The standalone tub acts more like a waterfall at this point since the overflow valve can’t keep up, and there’s a good inch or so of water on her bathroom floor, some of it sopped up with towels.
It takes maybe thirty seconds for me to locate her water shut-off valve and give it a good couple of cranks.
The water stops and Love stands in the doorway with wet feet and a pretty smile on her pink lips.
“How did you know what to do?” she asks.
Rising, I shrug. I can’t let her know that I’m a plumber by trade. According to Hunter, I’m a “strategic consultant” with multinational clients. It’s exactly the kind of job you can BS because no one really knows exactly what it is you do and contracts are private, so …
“I might be a little on the handy side,” I say