The Billionaire ScoopBy: Mia Caldwell
Jim could barely keep his feet on the ground—literally.
Every few seconds his feet lifted, his body rising a few inches above the Loeb Boathouse floor, and he had to silently talk his tall, broad-shouldered, suited frame into staying put—his large hands locked behind him, his body facing the long aisle lined with a delicate white runner and colorful petals prepared for his bride.
He scarcely felt the presence of over a hundred—perhaps several hundred—people sitting patiently while he waited quite impatiently for his soon-to-be-wife to appear.
Then the Bridal March began, and the attendees turned toward the entrance.
Jim’s body threatened to lift from the ground again, but he stubbornly kept his feet planted, concentrating on keeping everything together as the pivotal moment neared.
Suddenly, it seemed a light fog had crawled into the room, and it was when the bride appeared that Jim suddenly realized he was trapped in a lucid dream.
He wondered at the positive feelings he’d experienced in anticipation of this moment—so unlike what he usually felt when thinking about his upcoming nuptials.
As he remembered whose hand he was expected to take in marriage, he began to dread the moment the woman hidden under the veil reached him.
Yet strangely, the anxiety that plagued him in his waking life refused to take over.
Jim began to suspect that all was not what it seemed when his eyes examined the veiled woman in the distance again—something about her did not feel familiar; she didn’t look at all like the girl he had promised to marry the next day.
The woman now slowly walking toward him holding a bouquet dominated by peaches and cream in her gloved hands was pretty much completely covered, but even with all the lace and silk and flowers in the way of her features, he realized something was very wrong.
His fiancée, Lucy, was petite, blond, and fair-skinned, and this woman, though also rather slim, seemed taller, and as far as he could tell, her hair was darker, as was her skin.
Only curiosity remained as Jim tried to figure out who was taking measured steps toward him, and once she arrived, he immediately gripped the bottom of her veil and threw it over her head, not caring for the impropriety; he had to see the bride.
Shock pulsed through him as a beautiful, unfamiliar face greeted him—brown-skinned with warm brown eyes so unlike Lucy’s heavily-mascaraed, wide blue ones.
Though his brain did not recognize the sunny woman, his heart seemed to, and he was once again flooded with emotions that made his body take on a weightless quality again, and he started lifting from the ground once more.
This time, the beautiful stranger lifted with him, her red-stained lips in a gorgeous, heart-melting smile.
Jim no longer made an effort to keep his body grounded as they rose together.
Jim felt himself grinning as he lay alone on his silken sheets, wishing he didn’t have to open his eyes once his blaring alarm filtered into his consciousness.
“This is for the greater good,” Jim mumbled to himself as he adjusted his tie for at least the twentieth time, avoiding looking into his own eyes as he assessed his reflection.
It felt like even his mirror image was judging him—firm jaw set in disapproval, eyes more olive than sea-colored today.
Jim had no doubt every part of his tux was perfect, customized for his tall, muscled frame, every thread and button exactly where it should be, but he couldn’t keep his hands from smoothing it here, tugging at it there.
“Take it easy,” his best man Scott said, this time with a heavy hand on his shoulder.
A few minutes earlier, his old friend had said soothingly, “Relax,” and a few minutes before that, in a fake chipper voice, he’d made the mistake of saying, “It’ll work out—it’s for the best.”
That statement had only worked to raise Jim’s blood pressure, and Scott realized his error quickly.
How the hell was it best to marry someone he didn’t love?
No matter how many times it had been rationalized to him by Scott and his own father, in particular, the thought of going down the aisle to tie himself to Lucy still unsettled him to the point that he was sure his stomach would give up its contents any minute now.
While fiddling with his tie yet again, Jim took a few deep breaths at Scott’s latest gentle suggestion, finally looking himself in the eye.
His reflection didn’t seem so judgmental now, only unsettled.
“I dreamt I was marrying someone else last night,” he said flatly.
“What? Who?” Scott said, sounding almost personally offended.
“The face is fuzzy now, but either way, I’ve never met her. Just something my brain made up. Anything but Lucy, I guess—even someone who doesn’t exist.”