What happens when a desperate man seeks a 21st century marriage of convenience?
Confirmed bachelor, Nigel Turner, needs a wife in order to inherit his father's millions. And he needs one in short order. His only option—other than kidnapping, which is illegal—is to use the Internet site Rent-a-Bride.
Chloe Wilkes’s brother signs her up on Rent-a-Bride as a joke, but when Nigel's details end up in her inbox, she decides to get her own back, and reply.
Neither expects to fall in love with an arrangement that was meant to be temporary.
How much better is your love than wine and the fragrance of your perfumes than any spice!
~Song of Solomon 4:10
Shrove Tuesday February 13
Dr. Nigel Turner loosened his tie and shifted uncomfortably on the chair. It was stiflingly hot inside the lawyer’s office, despite the freezing cold winter’s day outside the tall, imposing building. His father’s will had turned out pretty much as he’d imagined.
His brother, as the second son, had been left a large amount of money and the microchip company. The valet had been left a small sum in return for thirty years loyal service. And the house, grounds, and fortune of several million had been left entirely to him as the eldest son.
No, there were no surprises whatsoever. Not even his father’s sudden death at fifty-seven from a heart attack, given the fact he’d never had a day off and worked every hour he could do. Their relationship had been tempestuous at best, frosty at worst. Even so, the house was empty without the stern presence of his father.
Mr. Jacobs, the family lawyer, peered over the top of his glasses. “However, your father did add a stipulation which has to be adhered to. Before you receive any money from the estate you must be married.”
Nigel sat bolt upright in his chair. His heart thudded and breath caught in his throat. “What?”
He couldn’t believe his ears as the lawyer read the codicil again in detail which included that the fortune would be given in its entirety to the Blethyn Memorial Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dogs, and the house to the Heritage Organization if he did not marry his girlfriend by Easter. He swallowed hard. “Is this a joke?” he managed. “Is it April Fool’s Day or something?”
His brother, Archie chuckled beside him. “You should be so lucky.”
Nigel bit back the reply ‘we don’t do luck.’
“No, it’s no joke,” Mr. Jacobs assured him. “Protecting the family and keeping the name going was something your father felt very strongly about.”
Nigel pushed to his feet and paced across the room. “So you’re saying that I have to marry by Easter or all the money goes to the dog’s home? I’ll contest the will. I mean, what if the will was being read on Good Friday? Easter is six weeks away. I can’t marry that quickly. The banns alone take four weeks now.”
“Technically, Easter is in seven weeks. Contesting the will would take months,” the lawyer said dryly. “And you’d lose. The will is quite watertight, I assure you, Dr. Turner. Easter this year falls on March twenty-seventh. That gives you forty-eight days.”
Nigel’s stomach tied into a tighter knot. His loosened collar still wanted to strangle him. “I need more time,” he protested. “Forty-eight days isn’t long enough to organize a wedding.”
“Then you’d better hurry and set a date,” Archie said. “I mean, you’ve made no secret over the fact you have a girlfriend. Even if we haven’t seen her in the year you’ve been dating. All you have to do is propose. I’m sure she’ll agree when she knows how rich you are. It’s not as if we can’t afford a wedding anyway. Even without your inheritance you’re rich by most people’s standards.”
Nigel stopped short of blurting out the truth. Instead he balled his hands into fists and studied the lawyer. “Tell me one more time.”
“Either you marry before Easter Sunday or you lose everything.”
“We’ll see about that. Good day.” Nigel shoved the door open and left, not bothering to close the door behind him. Now what did he do? His web of lies had finally come back to catch him out.
He’d invented the girlfriend to get his father off his back for the last year. His father had kept going on about marriage and the lack of women around the place, so in a moment of utter frustration, Nigel made up someone. He gave his father very good reasons why she couldn’t visit or stay over for the weekend. He had no idea it would come back to bite him like this.
As a Christian, he should have known better. Lying was wrong. Pure and simple. There was never a justifiable reason to lie. The small fib had snowballed exponentially, until there had been no going back. He’d been about to tell his father he’d broken up with his “girlfriend,” a lie to compound the lie, but he’d died before Nigel had the chance.
He looked at the chauffeur. “Home, James,” he quipped.
James smiled as he always did. “Yes, sir.”
Archie caught up with them and opened the car door. “Perhaps now we’ll get to meet the elusive Chloe.”
“I don’t know why you’re so happy.” Nigel scowled. “It’s not like you get the house and money if I don’t marry.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve got the company. You lose everything. Home, money, the lot.”
Nigel froze, half way into the car. Was Archie really that small minded? “It’s not as if I don’t have a source of income of my own. And I only live in the house because someone had to make sure Dad...” He paused. “Do you own the dog’s home just out of interest?”
Archie shook his head. “No, you couldn’t pay me to work with animals. I reckon Mr. Jacobs does. You’ve had your head stuck in a cloud for so long now you haven’t noticed anything. Stop concentrating on the dead and focus on the living for a change.”
“I prefer looking after the dead,” Nigel replied. He loved his job and wouldn’t change it for the world. He settled back into the seat. “I know you and Dad don’t understand it, but working for the Home Office as a pathologist is fascinating, not to mention worthwhile. We always manage to find the truth, no matter how well it’s been hidden.”
The reality of that statement hit him in the gut. How could he have been so stupid?
What had he done? He’d always prided himself on his honesty and now? He paused as he reached for his seatbelt. His words haunted him. Maybe he should just own up and get it over with. He opened the car door. “James, on second thoughts I’ll walk back. I need to clear my head.”
“Very good, sir.”
Outside in the cold air, he closed his eyes and drew in a deep calming breath. He’d go to the church. He needed to pray.
Brisk steps took him through the alley and down several side streets to the church. How was he supposed to find a wife in the forty-eight days before Easter? Never mind one called Chloe.
When he reached his destination, Nigel sank onto the steps and closed his eyes. “I’m in such a mess, Lord. My fault for lying, I know that. I wish there was a simple way out of this web of lies I’ve woven. How do I find a bride in six weeks? If only kidnapping weren’t illegal.”
“But it is.”
Nigel jumped and looked up. “Forgive me. I hadn’t realized I was speaking aloud.”
The stranger smiled. His blond hair brushed his shoulders whilst his intent blue gaze held Nigel captive, seeming to bore into his very soul. The man leaned his suit-clad form against the lamppost, one long thin hand sliding into his pocket. “You seem like a man with a lot on his mind. Praying is a good way to solve problems. The Lord takes delight in His children talking to Him. Perhaps I could offer some guidance.”
Nigel seriously doubted that, but something compelled him to speak. “My father’s will was read today. He stipulated that I have to marry by Easter or I lose my inheritance.” He laughed bitterly. “I know Dad and I never really got on, but this? The irony is, I brought it all upon myself.”
The stranger raised an eyebrow.
“He owned…well, I own…” He paused. “No, that’s not true either. Dad owned Thornhill Abbey.” He looked up at the sky. “I could contest the will, but there isn’t any point.”
“Is the money really what is driving you? It clearly isn’t making you happy.”
“No, that house is my birthright, and it was promised to me. It may not be a kingdom, but I’m the rightful heir. And unlike Esau I don’t intend to be cheated out of it.”
“Once you marry.”
Nigel bit his lip. “Because of my lies I have to find a woman and marry her in the next six weeks.”
“Lying is a sin.”
“I know and it started off with a tiny one, but it grew and now there is no way out of this mess.”
“A lie is a lie. Just as a dog is a dog, small or large, it doesn’t alter what it is. You need to pray.” The stranger’s deep voice struck a chord in Nigel’s heart.
“Properly. Put the whole thing into God’s hands and trust Him to give you the answer. Maybe marriage is the answer. Maybe your path lies somewhere other than with the house and wealth your father owned.”
“Are you saying this is a test?”
“I’m saying you must face the consequences of your actions. You have reached a crossroads. It’s only with God’s help you’ll choose the right path to take.”
Nigel buried his head in his hands, fingers tugging through the tight curls. Groans tore from him as he prayed. When he looked up, he was alone. By his feet lay a discarded flier. He reached out and picked it up, intending to put it in the next bin he passed, but the words at the top of the page caught his eye. Rent-a-bride. He glanced heavenward for a long moment then back down at the colored paper. There were no more details, just a website and a couple of pictures of women in long white wedding dresses.
Was this his answer?
Once home he locked himself in his bedroom and sat at the desk with the laptop. The website was a simple affair. It gave no clue as to how much it cost to actually rent a bride. It simply said they charged a joining fee, and there was a connection fee for forwarding mail to the women. It was then up to the individuals if further contact was made.
Nigel didn’t hesitate. He joined the site and once his password came, he had access to the database. He just hit random links until the unthinkable happened.
There she was. Chloe.
She looked almost exactly as he’d imagined. Long brown hair which fell past her shoulders. A smile to die for. Brown eyes that seemed almost the same shade as his own. She was pretty…oh, so pretty.
“Lord, is this from You?” he asked. “Is this really the way You want me to go?”
No immediate answer came, but then he wasn’t expecting a lightning bolt or something along those lines. What did he have to lose? This was purely business, nothing more.
Nigel clicked on the link below Chloe’s name and started to write.