Into The Fire(10)

By: E. L. Todd

He did? I didn’t even notice. And a comment like that would normally result in a slap across the face. But he somehow pulled it off without sounding like a perverted sleazebag. “I just…” Think of something intelligent to say. “Guys like you don’t normally need to pay for a date…unless they’re gay and need a fake girlfriend.”

“Oh, I get it.” He leaned back in the chair and rested one hand on the table. “Nope. I’m definitely straight.” His eyes moved down to my chest before he looked me in the eye again. Then he winked.

I should feel violated but I didn’t. “Okay…what do you need me to do?”

“Just act like my girlfriend when I’m around my family. That’s it. Nothing complicated.”

“But why do you need me?”

He rolled his eyes like the question irritated him. “It’s a really long story, but basically my parents owe me money but they won’t give it to me unless I have a serious girlfriend.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I couldn’t agree more, sweetheart.”

“Why do they owe you money?”

“They have a software company and it took a bad turn when this competitor got big. My parents needed the cash for a prototype so I lent it to them. Five years later, I still haven’t gotten it back even though their company is making bank. They don’t approve of my lifestyle and my interests. I need the money to open up my own shop, but I can’t get a loan because my credit is terrible. So, I have to play by their rules or kiss my dream goodbye.”

That sounded complicated. “What kind of shop?”

He presented both of his arms. “Tattoo shop.” Every inch of his skin was covered with ink. There were different images, like a ladder that led to nowhere, song lyrics, and a Hawaiian flower. “My parents think I’m a worthless loser. And perhaps they’re right. But I don’t care. I need to get this shop open. I’m tired of working for someone else.”

I replayed his story in my head. “That’s just wrong.”

“What?” He returned his arms to his sides. “My ink?”

“No, that your parents are controlling. You helped them out when you didn’t have to and this is how they treat you?” I’d struggle to smile in their presence.

He rolled his eyes. “They’re lame. I know.”

“Why don’t you sue them?”

He chuckled. “That would cause more headaches. And money. They could afford a much better lawyer than I could. If I just play their stupid game, I’ll get my money. Then they can kiss my ass.”

“I’m still a little confused…how does a girlfriend change any of this?”

“They think if I have a serious woman in my life, it’ll change me. Because nothing they have said or done has made a difference, maybe a wife will.” He rolled his eyes dramatically. “I don’t understand their thought process. But whatever. The sooner I get this shit over with, the sooner I can move on.”

I’d had a lot of unusual clients but this seemed to be the strangest one. “Well, I can do that for you.”

“Great.” He drummed his fingers on the table like he was playing a song. He could hardly sit still and he talked a lot. It was like he had ADD. “So, we’ll go out to dinner with them and begin this stupid charade.”

“Whoa, hold on.”

He stopped drumming. “What?”

“You can’t just show up with a girlfriend that quickly.”

“Why not?” he asked. “Let’s get the ball rolling.” He did a quick drum solo with his fingers.

“Don’t you think that would look suspicious to have a girlfriend twenty-four hours later? You’re going to need to wait at least a few weeks.”

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