Married at Midnight

By: Gerri Russell

“Okay,” he said, suddenly curious.

She opened the small purse at her side and withdrew a handful of hundred-dollar bills. “We didn’t gamble last night, did we?”

He shook his head, remembering the stack of bills he’d given her. He also remembered the radiance of her smile when he’d placed them in her hand.

“You gave these to me, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “I found it very admirable, what you’re doing.”

“Why support me in that way?” In that moment, she looked at him through the eyes he remembered.

“When you told me about the Birthday Project, you looked so sad because you didn’t have the funds to continue for October. I had the money, so I gave it to you,” he said with what he hoped was a casual shrug.

“Do you still feel the same way today, now that the thrill of last night and all the tequila are gone?” she asked, holding the money out to him.

He curled his hand around hers, gently guiding her hand and the money back toward her purse. “I still think what you’re doing is noble, and I’m happy to sponsor this month’s party.”

She stared at the money a moment longer before returning it to her purse. “I started the Birthday Project because of a little boy. He couldn’t have been more than five, strolling through Pike Place Market in front of me. He reached out and stole an apple from one of the vendors, then raced off. Before the vendor could chase him down, I paid for the apple, then followed the boy myself. I found him a few blocks away, hunched down in an alley, holding the apple before him and singing the birthday song to himself. When he saw me, he started to run, but I talked him into staying. We sat in that alley for a long time, talking about all the homeless kids, like himself, whose parents can’t celebrate their birthdays in any notable way given their circumstances. In that moment, I vowed I’d find a way to change that. To help kids like Kevin feel recognized and loved.”

She looked up at Connor, meeting his gaze. “Thank you for helping me keep my promise for October. It means the world to me and to the kids it will help.”

Connor could only nod, owing to the tightness in his throat.

Her expression softened. “All right. You helped me. I’ll help you. When do we leave?” Her words were only a thread above a whisper.

Connor forced back his own response to her story and looked at his watch. “I already called the airlines. Our flight leaves in two hours. We have just enough time to get back to the hotel for our things and then return my rental car before our flight.”

She frowned. “You were that sure I’d agree to your plan?”

He shrugged. “I hoped.”

She tipped her chin. Defiance radiated from her every pore. “Yeah, keep making assumptions about me, Grayson, and this arrangement won’t last very long,” she said, walking away from him, down the aisle toward the door.

After a few seconds he caught up with her. “It won’t happen again.” He tossed the apology out there like it meant something; then he realized that it really did. He needed her help. There was really nothing for her to gain from this arrangement except his cooperation with a quick divorce.

Connor took her hand.

She started to pull away.

He held tight. “We might as well start practicing now if we’re going to convince my grandmother we’re a couple.”

Ellie released a sigh. “This really wasn’t what I had planned when I came to Las Vegas.”

Connor forced back a flippant response. “What were you hoping to accomplish?” he asked instead, certain they’d never discussed why either of them was in town last night.

“I was looking for clients for my business,” she said as they made their way to the parking lot.

“I’ll hire you.”

She pulled her hand from his. “To do what?”

He shrugged. “I’ll need a launch party for my latest robotics project in the next few months if all goes well.”

“That won’t help me right now—besides, I’m not sure it’s wise to complicate our situation further, Grayson.”

At the moment, and in that tone of voice, she made his name sound like a curse. The thought rattled him as he opened the car door for her. She had been the curse of his life, not the other way around.

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