âWhat about it?â
âWe could say we âfell in loveâ that night. We were both there, right?â
âYes.â She went every year, even though she normally didnât enjoy large parties. But on New Yearâs Eve it just seemed wrong to stay home watching repeats of Law & Order . âBut so were about fifty other people. All of whom would know we barely spoke to each other that evening.â
âCome on, no one will remember that. It was a New Yearâs Eve party. A lot of people were drinking.â
âI wasnât,â she pointed out.
âWell, of course you werenât.â
âIâm sure you never drink in public. Wouldnât suit the image of the judge, would it?â
Actually, she didnât drink out of fear of turning into her mother. But that certainly wasnât the kind of thing she wanted him to know.
âBut even you,â he continued, âas sober as you were, do you remember what every other person at the party was doing?â
Mostly she remembered the unending boredom of listening to PaulâBeth and Stewâs accountantâdescribe his two-week glacier cruise to Alaska. But other than Paul, she couldnât remember how anyone else spent their evening. And despite how long it had felt, her conversation with Paul had lasted only twenty or so minutes.
âOkay, then,â she conceded. âWe âfell in loveâ at the party. So weâre set with a story.â
âWe need a few more details than that, donât you think?â
She let out a frustrated sigh. âWhat kind of details?â
âWell, if I remember right, it was a pretty warm night for December. We could say we went into the backyard to sit by the chiminea.â
âThat would explain why no one saw us together,â she pointed out. Beth and Stewâs house sat on more than half an acre of land. The long, narrow backyard was scattered with live oaks. For parties, Beth draped the limbs of the trees with lanterns. On a winter night, gathered around the warmth of the fire in the chiminea, it would be an undeniably romantic setting. The perfect place to fall in love.
âIt does sound nice,â she murmured. As soon as she heard how dreamy her tone sounded, she sat up straighter. âFor the purposes of the story, I mean.â
âOh, of course. For the story.â
He sounded amused. As if he sensed that sheâd momentarily gotten caught up in the fake memory they were creating to pass off their fake marriage as real.
Part of her wished she could adopt a similarly cavalier attitude about the situation. But then, it was her job that was at stake, not his.
Which probably meant she should be more grateful that heâd come up with a story about how theyâd fallen in love.His attitude might seem cavalier, but he was taking their arrangement as seriously as she was. Maybe even more so.
âWhat about dating?â she asked, determined to do her part.
âWhat about it?â
âWe certainly didnât go on any dates around town. Someone would have remembered that.â
âGood point. I guessââ she heard a rustling of fabric in the background and for a second his voice was muffled ââwe dated in Austin.â
âWe kept our relationship secret, though. Why would we do that?â she asked.
âI wanted to protect your reputation.â
For some reason, that struck her as funny. So she was laughing as she replied, âThatâs awfully noble of you.â
âWhat?â Mock offense laced his tone. âYou donât think Iâm noble?â
âHey, youâre marrying me to protect my reputation. I donât think it gets more noble than that.â
âRight. Donât forget it, either.â
âDonât worry. If you go through with this wedding, Iâll really owe you one.â
âSpeaking of the