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Pretend It's Love

By:Stefanie London

 One fake relationship shaken not stirred …

Bar manager Paul Chapman is sick of his family's traditional ideals.  Marriage, babies, and a white picket fence? Not his gig. But now that  his ‘golden child' big brother is tying the knot, Paul's screwed. His ex  will be there … and she's having his cousin's baby. Unless he wants to  show up to the wedding alone and face his family's scrutiny, he needs a  girl on his arm. Now.

Cocktail specialist Libby Harris has spent her life earning the nickname  Little Miss Perfect, all to win the love of her wealthy, controlling  father. But she deviated from his plan, and now her business is on shaky  ground. If it fails, she might as well kiss his respect-and her  dream-good-bye. Her only hope? Convince the hottest bar in town to take  on her product.

Luckily for her, the owner's brother is sexy as sin and in need of a perfect girlfriend …

To anyone who's ever chased a dream against the advice of others.

Chapter One

There were plenty of other things Paul Chapman would rather be doing  than watching two people make goo-goo eyes at each other. He could stab  himself in the eye with a steak knife. Or listen to his mother talk ad  nauseam about the intricacies of the floral arrangements.

Either would be preferable.

"Man, you've got to lighten up." Noah Reid, his best friend and soon to  be fellow groomsman, elbowed him in the ribs. "You look like you're  about to go all Friday the Thirteenth."

"I hate pretentious parties." He shoved a bite-size piece of toast with  smoked salmon into his mouth. "And I hate this stupid, tiny food."

"What did you expect?"

Noah had a point. Paul should have known what he was in for the second  his brother announced the engagement party would be held in his  fiancée's family home in Toorak, aka the "old money" part of Melbourne.  The Greenes were rolling in it. It was fitting that they'd be drinking  the fanciest champagne on the market and eating food that looked fit for  a dollhouse.

"Is it so bad that I want a burger and a beer?"

Noah laughed. "If you're still hungry we'll do a Macca's run on the way home."


Paul watched the happy couple. His big brother looked more satisfied  than he'd ever seen him, and Gracie, his pint-size wife-to-be, wore a  smile that managed to out-sparkle her impressive engagement ring.

"Reckon that will be us one day?" Noah asked, studying Des and Gracie as though they were an alien species.

"No way. Marriage is for chumps." Paul screwed up his nose. "I'm only here because of Des."

Stomach grumbling, his eyes roamed, already on the hunt for something  else to eat. The current options were miniscule sushi rolls and pieces  of raw fish. What was the point of eating something if you weren't going  to bother cooking it first?

He brought a champagne flute to his lips and knocked back the remainder  of his drink. It wasn't his poison of choice but it was alcoholic.  Better than nothing.

A gloomy funk had descended over Paul ever since the engagement had been  announced. He was happy for his brother, of course. Gracie was good for  him and they'd worked hard to get past the early hurdles in their  relationship. But it was just another opportunity for Des to prove to  their family that he was the favorite. The golden child. The chosen one.

The son who would live up to all their expectations.

Des ran the restaurant and bar, First, where Paul worked. His big  brother's success in business would be further complemented by a  wedding. Then it wouldn't be long before the bambini arrived, and Paul  would never have a hope of catching him.

A waiter walked past carrying a tray of freshly filled champagne flutes.  Paul switched his empty glass for a full one and downed half of it in a  single gulp.

"Whoa there. You're drinking like an eighteen-year-old girl at O week."  Noah shook his head, laughing. "I don't want to be holding your hair  back later tonight when that all comes back up."

Paul opened his mouth to retort, but Des and Gracie were coming their  way. He put on his best "happy brother" face and held his champagne  flute up in salute. Gracie launched herself at the two guys, collecting  them both in a hug that was impressive for a girl her size.

"How are my future brothers-in-law?" she asked.

Noah might not have been a flesh and blood brother, but the Chapman  boys-and now Gracie-treated him as if he were part of the family.

"Enjoying the festivities. Paul here has taken a liking to the champagne." Noah smiled innocently as Des rolled his eyes.         



"Me, too." Gracie leaned forward and winked at him, her cheeks flushed.

"Too many drinks, not enough dinner," Des said with a frown. "We should get something into your stomach."

"Don't be a bore. I haven't drunk like this since university-it's a special night!"

"Can I get that in writing so when you're glued to the bed all day tomorrow I can remind you the hangover is worth it?"

She poked her tongue out at him before turning to Paul. "Was he always this straight-laced growing up?"

"Uh, yes," Paul replied. "Hard to believe it, but he was worse."

"Yikes." Gracie giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.

When she wandered off to dance with her sister, Des shook his head. "The wedding planning has been a little … tense."

Noah frowned. "Because of Mrs. Greene?"

No one ever referred to Gracie's mother as anything but Mrs. Greene,  although Paul had been led to suspect her name might be Cecilia. Despite  sharing her daughter's petite stature and flair for style, she lacked  any of the warmth and charisma that Gracie exuded, and had a reputation  as being a bit of a dragon.

"Yeah." Des raked a hand through his dark hair. "She's driving Gracie  bananas, but I can't get involved. She gets worked up if I mention it.  Good thing it'll be over in a few weeks."

Paul choked on his drink. "A few weeks?"

"Yeah, we're going to announce it tonight. The wedding is going to be in six weeks."

"Is she … " Noah looked around to see if anyone else was in earshot.

Des folded his arms across his chest. "She's not pregnant."

"Not yet," Noah said, waggling his eyebrows.

"Why the hurry?" Paul set the champagne flute down.

Des looked over his shoulder. "I don't want this planning phase to go on  any longer than it has to. Besides, we're ready to be married. It  sounds corny, but I don't want to wait any longer."

Paul made a gagging motion. "What chick flick did you pull that from?"

"Mock me, oh little brother. One day this will be you, and I'll be the  first one to remind you of this moment." Des turned to Noah and slapped  him on the back. "And when it comes to the wedding you have to wear a  suit. No excuses."

Noah had worn black jeans and an open-collared shirt under a leather  motorcycle jacket, despite the fact that the invites had said Dress  Code: Cocktail. "It'll be the first time."

Des moved on to talk to Gracie's older sister and left the two men to  their drinks. The engagement party was intimate. Private. Immediate  family and the bridal party only.

But the wedding would be filled with people Paul didn't want to face.  Most of all, his ex-almost-fiancée and the guy she'd married … who just so  happened to be his cousin.

"Six weeks, can you believe it?" Noah shook his head. "How are we going to plan a buck's party in that time?"

"Yeah … "

But Paul's mind was consumed with the wedding itself. He'd thought that  Gracie and Des would have a more standard engagement, like one or two  years … five, if he was lucky. Then he would have time to get his shit  sorted, find someone he trusted enough to bring to a family function,  and do something noteworthy so he didn't have to rehash the overdone  conversation about his lack of direction in life. He could hear his  aunts now.

Paul, why can't you be more like your brother? Why haven't you settled down with anyone yet? Don't you want to get married?

And the underlying question beneath it all: what did you do that was so bad your girlfriend cheated on you with your own cousin?

Like it was his bloody fault.

"Hey." Noah waved a hand in front of his face. "I said, do you think Des would want a weekend away for his buck's?"

"Maybe." Paul wanted to talk about anything that wasn't connected to the wedding, but his concentration had deserted him.

"You giving a speech?" Noah asked.

Paul looked up. "Huh?"

His friend pointed to a piece of paper sticking out of his suit pants pocket. "I thought you hated speeches."

"I'm not giving a speech, but I did get her number." He nodded toward  the blond catering assistant who flushed when the two men turned to look  at her.

"This is a family event." Noah shook his head.

Paul grinned. "Girls love me, what can I say?"

"You're so full of shit."

Truth was he hadn't really wanted her number, but old habits die hard.  At one point women were the center of Paul's life, though not any one  woman in particular. However, lately he'd stopped going out partying  with Noah. He'd even deleted all the numbers in his phone that weren't  family or his mates. Empty encounters had begun to fill him with  resentment.