Chapter 1: What kind of a name is Rio?
“Have you lost your damn mind?”
Beth Boland sighs evenly as she glances over at her sister, and yeah, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea to tell her because it looks like her head might explode—red lipstick getting redder by the second.
“No, I’ve actually thought a lot about this. I even made a flow chart.” She takes the two-piece paper chart out from under a stack of papers and envelopes on the island kitchen table, covered in color-coded highlights and post-it notes. But before she can show her, Annie snatches it up and crumples, tossing it towards the garbage can and missing.
“That took an hour.”
Annie pinches the bridge of her nose, “This is crazy. Dean re-marrying has really done something to your psyche. You know, most women go on a shopping spree with their ex-husband’s credit cards before they cut them off but you…you’re buying a…” She trails off, unsure of how to phrase it.
“I’m renting a date for Dean’s wedding. There’s a ‘stand-in’ service that does this all the time—”
“Phrasing it like that doesn’t make it sound any better.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “You’re basically hiring a gigolo.”
Beth feels her cheeks go scarlet, “That is not what I’m—” She digs through the papers and shows her the website’s home page that she printed out from online. “You don’t think I know how to do research? I’ve looked into this for over a month. He’s not a gigolo; I literally pay him to be my stand-in wedding date, that’s it.”
Annie sighs but she can tell she’s slowly buckling to the idea; Beth’s always been rather good at weighing people down with overwhelming facts. If only her flow-chart hadn’t been thrown away…she itches to pick it up where it sits glaring at her from the floor.
“This has to be one of the sketchiest things you’ve ever done.” Annie licks her lips. “How do you know this isn’t some big scam? He could be a gang leader, or a murderer—”
“One of the PTA moms told me about it, says she hired someone to make her husband jealous. She has receipts and even wrote a tasteful review.” She smiles, but Annie’s still looking at her like she’s a little crazy.
And maybe she is.
“So you want to hire someone to make Dean jealous.”
She distantly knows it’s a joke but her body reacts to the idea instantly, her shoulders curling in and a gagging noise leaves her throat. “God, no,” Annie smirks a little, moving to sit down at the island counter. “This isn’t for Dean or about Dean at all…this is for me.”
Beth holds her sister’s gaze for a moment, letting the words sink in. Annie’s eyes trace the expression on her face, her jaw working because she wants to offer commentary that Beth doesn’t need. But instead she bites her tongue and lets her continue.
“You know I wouldn’t be going to this damn thing at all if it weren’t for him using the kids.” She rolls her eyes to the ceiling, a helpless sensation crawling around her like rope, just long enough to hang herself with it. “They’re in the wedding, they want me to be there.” She rubs the back of her neck, squeezing tired muscles.
“What does it tell them if I don’t show up? If I’m not interested in having Dean in my life anymore with the new family he’s trying to build for himself?”
“That he’s a cheating man-whore who doesn’t deserve you or the kids, to be honest.”
Beth lets out a slow breath, too tired to argue. She’s done trying, “He’s still their father.”
Annie groans, running her fingers through her hair, almost like she’s getting ready to pull it out. She hates the ‘father’ card, Beth knows this, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the only good thing Dean’s ever done.
“Okay, but hiring a date? You could have anyone you want.”
“And how much time is that going to take?” Beth prompts, shoving a calendar a little too hard in Annie’s direction. “He sprung this wedding on me. It’s in two weeks—I don’t have time to find someone I don’t mind going with. I can’t go alone.” She swallows thickly and Annie’s hand slips across the counter to squeeze her own.
She doesn’t feel sorry for her but she…she understands, which is the only reason Beth squeezes her hand back and straightens her shoulders afterwards.
“I’m strong but I’m not that strong. I want a distraction, I want someone…hot and charismatic and someone easily forgettable after this whole thing is over. I don’t want Dean to think he’s won by me showing up alone or…with someone less attractive than him.”
Annie laughs softly and hops down off her chair to get herself a glass of wine. “Shouldn’t be too hard to find someone more attractive than him, let’s put it that way. Thank God for your genes otherwise your kids would be a lost cause.”
She rolls her eyes playfully and lets out a slow breath. Okay, so she’s doing this.
“How much is this dude, anyways?”
Beth chews on her lower lip, not wanting to reply to her for a moment because she’s got Annie on the bandwagon but…here’s where she loses her again. It’s expensive; she’s dipped into savings she’s collected over the years and she definitely was going to put some of it on one of Dean’s credit cards.
But it’s a service, right? She can’t expect to pay something cheap and get a good experience.
“It’s…an investment.” She starts and Annie narrows her eyes before quickly grabbing another sheet of paper—an email interaction between her and her mystery man.
Annie slams her wine glass down so hard Beth thought the stem might break in half. “Five thousand dollars? Are you crazy? His dick better glow in the dark, Beth—” She grabs the paper back, smoothing out the edges with a patient expression and waits for her sister’s rant to be finished. “And what kind of a name is Rio?”
“The price has nothing to do with—” She rolls her eyes to the ceiling; she’s done commenting on that irrelevant part in all this. “He’s got a five-star review.”
“And a neck tattoo, that’ll drive Dean’s mom crazy.”
Beth smiles a little before shrugging her shoulder, “So it’s a win-win.”
Annie snorts, picking up her wine glass again to take a slow sip. She pauses thoughtfully for a moment, eyes tracing the photo of Rio at the bottom of the email. It’s just from his waist up, arms down at his sides, black t-shirt. Nothing too fancy. Her sister purses her lips, “At least he’s hot, got those kinda vibes like he could choke me and I’d thank him from the hospital.”
“Oh my God, Annie,” Beth shakes her head but she’s smiling as she clinks her glass against her own.
She leans her elbows on the counter and chews on the inside of her cheek hard enough to nearly taste blood, “He’s local, so I’m meeting him at a bar tomorrow night to, as he put it, ‘check the merchandise’.”
Annie tilts the email to get a better look at it and moves a paper aside to pick up the picture Rio’s attached of himself. She raises an eyebrow and suddenly gets a mischievous sparkle to her eyes that Beth isn’t sure she likes.
“What kind of checking will you be doing?” She waggles her eyebrows and Beth covers the papers with a dish towel.
“It’s a business deal.” Beth tries to brand the words into her skin with her eyes but it’s not working, it’s not taking Annie’s amused smile off her face. She taps her fingers against the countertop before continuing, “I pay him half up front, iron out the details with him, make sure we’re on the same page and then…I guess I see him at the wedding.”
Annie clinks her wine glass with her own again, “Cheers, wish I could see the look on Dean’s face. The man deserves to swallow his own tongue.”
“Oh, I’ll take pictures.” Beth grins, mostly kidding and Annie dissolves into a fit of giggles, her shoulder bumping into her sister’s as she pours her another glass of wine.