Jennifer found him in the bookstore down the street from his bar, where Deacon spent most of his days off. He couldn’t explain why he preferred it there, the smells and the shelves and the quiet buzz of the people, but it suited him better than getting books in the mail or reading them on a screen.
She joined him on the couch where he’d settled, which wasn’t unusual. She hadn’t picked up something to read along the way, which was. He was already setting his book down when she jumped right in.
“Wanna get married?”
Deacon wasn’t easily surprised, even by Jennifer’s more whimsical moods, but this time he had to pause for half a second to catch up.
“Well, I’d have to see the ring first.”
“Haven’t got a ring. Don’t know your size.” She shifted herself across the cushion until she was comfortably nestled under his arm. “But I do have...fifty million dollars.”
Whatever he was about to say turned into a cough, shock blocking his access to air. That kind of money--it didn’t even sound possible, did it?
“Are you saying you want to pay me to marry you?”
“No. Yes, but no. I’m saying I need to marry you to get paid. Then I can pay you, for getting me paid.” She waved a hand. “It’s a whole thing.”
“Listen, kid, not that I’m not tempted to believe that amount of money is real--”
“Oh, it's real.”
“But, I’m gonna need more information. Why would you need to marry me?” He pulled away to look down at her. “Is it me specifically, or...”
“Nope, any man will do. I’d say anyone will do, man or woman, but Grandpa was a real traditional bastard or else I wouldn’t be in this pickle.”
He didn’t know if he was flattered or insulted. Mostly he was still baffled by how casual Jennifer seemed, cuddled up to him like she didn’t have a care in the world except trying to convince Deacon to help her spend millions as a married couple.
A married couple. Yikes.
“I like you,” he said, deciding to be as gentle as he could with the letdown. “You know, as a person. But marriage...it’s really not my thing. And we, we’d drive each other crazy as a couple.”
“Deacon.” Jennifer laughed, her hair flying until that snort of hers escaped. “An indecent proposal. An affair to remember. I’m not asking you to marry me.”
“You just did.”
“I did, but I’m not. Come on, follow the yellow brick road--my father is the Wizard and he’s pulling the strings on my trust fund’s legal loopholes. If I want to get around them, and get the Markridge money that was always supposed to be mine, I have to be a bride.”
She hummed the wedding march.
“That doesn’t mean we have to be married. We just have to get married. It’s all about life’s little rituals. Get it?”
If he were slow, her missing-canary grin would’ve helped him along, but Deacon usually understood Jennifer pretty well.
“Do I get fifty million myself, or do we split it?”
“The whole trust is supposed to be upwards of one-fifty, so you can have fifty.” She said it the same way Deacon would offer her half a sandwich. “Lawyers and accountants will work out the particulars, but I’m sure we can arrange it as a nice settlement in the divorce.”
“Wow. Not even married yet and you’re already talking divorce.” He nudged her with his elbow, and her grin widened.
“You’re gonna do it.”
“I didn’t say that. I might have conditions.”
“You don’t though. Deacon...”
“Yeah, okay, I can’t think of any at this exact second. Forgive me for never having imagined fifty million dollars before--it’s a difficult number to get my head around.”
“If you say yes, you’ll have plenty of time to process. It’s a long flight to Vegas.”
“Of course! Where do two people go for a spur-of-the-moment yet believable wedding? What happens there stays there but our marriage there will come here--and then we will be the proud owners of my rightful inheritance.”
He smiled down at his hands, then directed that considering look at her. “I’ve never been to Vegas.”
“It’s full of sin and entertainment and food and luxury hotel rooms,” Jennifer told him. “You’ll love it.”
What kind of idiot has a friend walk up to him with a winning lottery ticket and throws it away? Deacon thought as Jennifer waited, bouncing a little on the couch beside him.
A drive-through wedding, a Vegas vacation, an amicable divorce. To be followed by millions upon millions of dollars. Why was he even hesitating?
He looked over, and Jennifer beamed at him. Not smiled but actually beamed, he thought, like she was her own source of light. Or his.
Yeah, that was why, he admitted to himself. So what if it was a sham marriage--it was still a marriage. To Jennifer.
He was pretty sure nothing good could come from that, in the end.
She grabbed his hand and tugged on it a little, interrupting his thoughts. “Well? Want to get hitched?”
Deacon had never spent his life worrying much about the end. Waste of time, as far as he could tell. The middle was much more interesting.
“What the hell,” he told her, squeezing her hand. “I have to settle up at the bar, figure out when I’m free, but then, sure. Let’s go.”
“You own the bar,” she reminded him. “You’re free. Tell your brother and my car will take us to the airport.”
“Seriously. Just like that.”
“Just like that.” Deacon ignored her teasing tone, trying to plan his next steps. The bar would be fine without him for a few days, his brother was already watching his dog because it turned out he was allergic...he didn’t even have plants that would need watering.
Apparently his life was perfectly suited to a drop-everything getaway. Go figure.
“Do you like that book?”
He glanced down at the one he'd been halfway through when she arrived. “Yeah, I’m liking it so far. Was going to finish it before I headed home.”
“Well, how about instead of doing that, you walk over and talk to your brother. Get packed.” Jennifer held up the book. “I will buy this for you and you can finish it on the plane.”
“Jennifer, you don’t have to--I can buy my own books,” he protested, but she was already up off the couch, darting out of reach. It was an effective enough distraction that Deacon forgot to argue against leaving literally right that moment.
She grinned, victorious.