Falling for Her Fake Fiance

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All it takes to seal the deal is one little temporary engagement…

Ethan Logan never fails. But taking over the multi-million-dollar Beaumont Brewery is proving impossible. To succeed will mean taking drastic measures. It means proposing to a red-haired Beaumont bombshell. It’s the perfect plan—until Ethan realizes he wants her for more than just business…

Frances Beaumont won’t marry a total stranger and get nothing in return. But once Ethan agrees to the socialite’s terms, she expects their charade to go off without a hitch. Frances doesn’t believe in love and has never met a man she couldn’t handle. And then one kiss from her fake fiancé changes everything…

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The Beaumont Heirs: Book 5
Oct. 2015 from Harlequin Desire
ISBN-13: 978-1460386811




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Chapter One

“Mis-ter Logan,” the old-fashioned intercom rasped on Ethan’s desk.

He scowled at the thing and at the way his current secretary insisted on hissing his name. “Yes, Delores?” He’d never been in an office that required an intercom. It felt as if he’d walked into the 1970s.

Of course, that was probably how old the intercom was. After all, Ethan was sitting in the headquarters of the Beaumont Brewery. This room—complete with hand-carved everything—probably hadn’t been redecorated since, well…

A very long time ago. The Beaumont Brewery was 160 years old, after all.

“Mis-ter Logan,” Delores rasped again, her dislike for him palatable. “We’re going to have to stop production on the Mountain Cold and Mountain Cold Light lines.”

“What? Why?” Logan demanded. The last thing he could afford was another shutdown.

Ethan had been running this company for almost three months now. His firm, Corporate Restructuring Services, had beat out some heavy hitters for the right to handle the reorganization of the Beaumont Brewery, and Ethan had to make this count. If he—and, by extension, CRS—could turn this aging, antique company into a modern-day business, their reputation in the business world would be cemented.

Ethan had expected some resistance. It was only natural. He’d restructured thirteen companies before taking the helm of Beaumont Brewery. Each company had emerged from the reorganization process leaner, meaner and more competitive in a global economy. Everyone won when that happened.

Yes, thirteen success stories.

Yet nothing had prepared him for the Beaumont Brewery.

“There’s a flu going around,” Delores said. “Sixty-five workers are home sick, the poor dears.”

A flu. Wasn’t that just a laugh and a half? Last week, it’d been a cold that had knocked out forty-seven employees. And the week before, after a mass food poisoning, fifty-four people hadn’t been able to make it in.

Ethan was no idiot. He’d cut the employees a little slack the first two times, trying to earn their trust. But now it was time to lay down the law.

“Fire every single person who called in sick today.”

There was a satisfying pause on the other end of the intercom, and, for a moment, Ethan felt a surge of victory.

The victorious surge was short-lived, however.

“Mis-ter Logan,” Delores began. “Regretfully, it seems that the HR personnel in charge of processing terminations are out sick today.”

“Of course they are,” he snapped. He fought the urge to throw the intercom across the room, but that was an impulsive, juvenile thing to do, and Ethan was not impulsive or juvenile. Not anymore.

So, as unsatisfying as it was, he merely shut off the intercom and glared at his office door.

He needed a better plan.

He always had a plan when he went into a business. His method was proven. He could turn a flailing business around in as little as six months.

But this? The Beaumont freaking Brewery?

That was the problem, he decided. Everyone—the press, the public, their customers and especially the employees—still thought of this as the Beaumont Brewery. Sure, the business had been under Beaumont management for a good century and a half. That was the reason AllBev, the conglomerate that had hired CRS to handle this reorganization, had chosen to keep the Beaumont name a part of the Brewery—the name-recognition value was through the roof.

But it wasn’t the Beaumont family’s brewery anymore. They had been forced out months ago. And the sooner the employees realized that, the better.

He looked around the office. It was beautiful, heavy with history and power.

He’d heard that the conference table had been custom-made. It was so big and heavy that it’d been built in the actual office—they might have to take a wall out to remove it. Tucked in the far corner by a large coffee table was a grouping of two leather club chairs and a matching leather love seat. The coffee table was supposedly made of one of the original wagon wheels that Phillipe Beaumont had used when he’d crossed the Great Plains with a team of Percheron draft horses back in the 1880s.

The only signs of the current decade were the flat-screen television that hung over the sitting area and the electronics on the desk, which had been made to match the conference table.

The entire room screamed Beaumont so loudly he was practically deafened by it.

He flipped on the hated intercom again. “Delores.”

“Yes, Mis—”

He cut her off before she could mangle his name again. “I want to redo the office. I want all this stuff gone. The curtains, the woodwork—and the conference table. All of it.” Some of these pieces—hand carved and well cared for, like the bar—would probably fetch a pretty penny. “Sell it off.”

There was another satisfying pause.

“Yes, sir.” For a moment, he thought she sounded subdued—cowed. As if she couldn’t believe he would really dismantle the heart of the Beaumont Brewery. But then she added, “I know just the appraiser to call,” in a tone that sounded…smug?

He ignored her and went back to his computer. Two lines shut down was not acceptable. If either line didn’t pull double shifts tomorrow, he wouldn’t wait for HR to terminate employees. He’d do it himself.

After all, he was the boss here. What he said went.

And that included the furniture.

 

Frances Beaumont slammed her bedroom door behind her and flopped down on her bed. Another rejection—she couldn’t fall much lower.

She was tired of this. She’d been forced to move back into the Beaumont mansion after her last project had failed so spectacularly that she’d had to give up her luxury condo in downtown Denver. She’d even been forced to sell most of her designer wardrobe.

The idea—digital art ownership and crowdsourcing art patronage online by having buyers buy stock in digital art—had been fundamentally sound. Art might be timeless, but art production and collection had to evolve. She’d sunk a considerable portion of her fortune into Art Digitale, as well as every single penny she’d gotten from the sale of the Beaumont Brewery.

What an epic, crushing mistake. After months of delays and false starts—and huge bills—Art Digitale had been live for three weeks before the funds ran out. Not a single transaction had taken place on the website. In her gilded life, she’d never experienced such complete failure. How could she? She was a Beaumont.

Her business failure was bad enough. But worse? She couldn’t get a job. It was as if being a Beaumont suddenly counted for nothing. Her first employer, the owner of Galerie Solaria, hadn’t exactly jumped at the chance to have Frances come back, even though Frances knew how to flatter the wealthy, art-focused patrons and massage the delicate egos of artists. She knew how to sell art—didn’t that count for something?

Plus, she was a Beaumont. A few years ago, people would have jumped at the chance to be associated with one of the founding families of Denver. Frances had been an in-demand woman.

“Where did I go wrong?” she asked her ceiling.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t have an answer.

She’d just turned thirty. She was broke and had moved back in with her family—her brother Chadwick and his family, plus assorted Beaumonts from her father’s other marriages.

She shuddered in horror.

When the family still owned the Brewery, the Beaumont name had meant something. Frances had meant something. But ever since that part of her life had been sold, she’d been…adrift.

If only there was some way to go back, to put the Brewery under the family’s control again.

Yes, she thought bitterly, that was definitely an option. Her older brothers Chadwick and Matthew had walked away and started their own brewery, Percheron Drafts. Phillip, her favorite older brother, the one who had gotten her into parties and helped her build her reputation as the Cool Girl of Denver high society, had ensconced himself out on the Beaumont Farm and gotten sober. No more parties with him. And her twin brother, Byron, was starting a new restaurant.

Everyone else was moving forward, pairing off. And Frances was stuck back in her childhood room, alone.

Not that she believed a man would solve any of her problems. She’d grown up watching her father burn through marriage after unhappy marriage. No, she knew love didn’t exist. Or if it did, it wasn’t in the cards for her.

She was on her own here.

She opened up a message from her friend Becky and stared at the picture of a shuttered storefront. She and Becky had worked together at Galerie Solaria. Becky had no famous last name and no social connections, but she knew art and had a snarky sense of humor that cut through the bull. More to the point, Becky treated Frances like she was a real person, not just a special Beaumont snowflake. They had been friends ever since.

Becky had a proposition. She wanted to open a new gallery, one that would merge the new-media art forms with the standard classics that wealthy patrons preferred. It wasn’t as avant-garde as Frances’s digital art business had been, but it was a good bridge between the two worlds.

The only problem was Frances did not have the money to invest. She wished to God she did. She could co-own and comanage the gallery. It wouldn’t bring in big bucks, but it could get her out of the mansion. It could get her back to being a somebody. And not just any somebody. She could go back to being Frances Beaumont—popular, respected, envied.

She dropped her phone onto the bed in defeat. Right. Another fortune was just going to fall into her lap and she’d be in demand. Sure. And she would also sprout wings.

True despair was sinking in when her phone rang. She answered it without even looking at the screen. “Hello?” she said morosely.

“Frances? Frannie,” the woman said. “I know you may not remember me—I’m Delores Hahn. I used to work in accounting at—”

The name rang a bell, an older woman who wore her hair in a tight bun. “Oh! Delores! Yes, you were at the Brewery. How are you?”

The only people besides her siblings who called her Frannie were the longtime employees of the Beaumont Brewery. They were her second family—or at least, they had been.

“We’ve been better,” Delores said. “Listen, I have a proposal for you. I know you’ve got those fancy art degrees.”

In the safety of her room, Frances blushed. After today’s rejections, she didn’t feel particularly fancy. “What kind of proposal?” Maybe her luck was about to change. Maybe this proposal would come with a paycheck.

“Well,” Delores went on in a whisper, “the new CEO that AllBev brought in?”

Frances scowled. “What about him? Failing miserably, I hope.”

“Sadly,” Delores said in a not-sad-at-all voice, “there’s been an epidemic of Brew Flu going around. We had to halt production on two lines today.”

Frances couldn’t hold back the laugh that burst forth from her. “Oh, that’s fabulous.”

“It was,” Delores agreed. “But it made Logan—that’s the new CEO—so mad that he decided to rip out your father’s office.”

Frances would have laughed again, except for one little detail. “He’s going to destroy Daddy’s office? He wouldn’t dare!”

“He told me to sell it off. All of it—the table, the bar, everything. I think he’d even perform an exorcism, if he thought it’d help,” she added.

Her father’s office. Technically, it had most recently been Chadwick’s office. But Frances had never stopped thinking of her father and that office together. “So what’s your proposal?”

“Well,” Delores said, her voice dropping past whisper and straight into conspirator. “I thought you could come do the appraisals. Who knows—you might be able to line up buyers for some of it.”

“And…” Frances swallowed. The following was a crass question, but desperate times and all that. “And would this Logan fellow pay for the appraisal? If I sold the furniture myself—” say, to a certain sentimental older brother who’d been the CEO for almost ten years “—would I get a commission?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Frances tried to see the downside of this situation, but nothing popped up. Delores was right—if anyone had the connections to sell off her family’s furniture, it’d be Frances.

Plus, if she could get a foothold back in the Brewery, she might be able to help all those poor, flu-stricken workers. She wasn’t so naive to think that she could get a conglomerate like AllBev to sell the company back to the family, but…

She might be able to make this Logan’s life a little more difficult. She might be able to exact a little revenge. After all—the sale of the Brewery had been when her luck had turned sour. And if she could get paid to do all of that?

“Let’s say Friday, shall we?” That was only two days away, but that would give her plenty of time to plan and execute her trap. “I’ll bring the donuts.”

Delores actually giggled. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

Oh, yes. This was going to be great.

 

“Mis-ter Logan, the appraiser is here.”

Ethan set down the head count rolls he’d been studying. Next week, he was reducing the workforce by 15 percent. People with one or more “illness absences” were going to be the first to find themselves out on the sidewalk with nothing more than a box of their possessions.

“Good. Send him in.”

But no nerdy-looking art geek walked into the office. Ethan waited and then switched the intercom back on. Before he could ask Delores the question, though, he heard a lot of people talking—and laughing?

It sounded as though someone was having a party in the reception area.

What the hell?

He strode across the room and threw open his office door. There was, point of fact, a party going on outside. Workers he’d only caught glimpses of before were all crowded around Delores’s desk, donuts in their hands and sappy smiles on their faces.

“What’s going on out here?” he thundered. “This is a business, people, not a—”

Then the crowd parted, and he saw her.

God, how had he missed her? A woman with a stunning mane of flame-red hair sat on the edge of Delores’s desk. Her body was covered by an emerald-green gown that clung to every curve like a lover’s hands. His fingers itched to trace the line of her bare shoulders.

She was not an employee. That much was clear.

She was, however, holding a box of donuts.

The good-natured hum he’d heard on the intercom died away. The smiles disappeared, and people edged away from him.

“What is this?” he demanded. The color drained out of several employees’ faces, but his tone didn’t appear to have the slightest impact on the woman in the green gown.

His eyes were drawn to her back, to the way her ass looked sitting on the edge of the desk. Slowly—so slowly it almost hurt him—she turned and looked at him over her shoulder.

He might have intimidated the workers. He clearly had not intimidated her.

She batted her eyelashes as a cryptic smile danced across her deep red lips. “Why, it’s Donut Friday.”

Ethan glared at her. “What?”

She pivoted, bringing more of her profile into view. Dear God, that dress—that body. The strapless dress came to a deep V over her chest, doing everything in its power to highlight the pale, creamy skin of her décolletage.

He shouldn’t stare. He wasn’t staring. Really.

Her posture shifted. It was like watching a dancer arrange herself before launching into a series of gravity-defying pirouettes. “You must be new here,” the woman said in a pitying tone. “It’s Friday. That’s the day I bring donuts.”

Individually, he understood each word and every implication of her tone and movement. But together? “Donut Friday?” He’d been here for months, and this was the first time he’d heard anything about donuts.

“Yes,” she said. She held out the box. “I bring everyone a donut. Would you like the last one? I’m afraid all I have left is a plain.”

“And who are you, if I may ask?”

“Oh, you may.” She lowered her chin and looked up at him through her lashes. She was simply the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, which was more than enough to turn his head. But the fact that she was playing him for the fool—and they both knew it?

There were snickers from the far-too-large audience as she held out her hand for him—not to shake, no. She held it out as though she expected him to kiss it, as if she were the queen or something.

“I’m Frances Beaumont. I’m here to appraise the antiques.”

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