Fake Fiance, Real Revenge

By: Roxanne Snopek

A Three River Ranch Novel



Chapter One



The ultrarich were a monotonous lot, but they sure knew how to throw a party.

Mitchell Granger reached for another glass of champagne, feeling as if his face was about to crack, reminding himself that he was glad he wasn’t like them.

They were pretentious. Predictable. Profoundly shallow.

He wasn’t like them. Not at all.

Still, he hated feeling like an outsider. He was amazed that Della Fontaine hadn’t noticed his discomfort, but then she’d been too busy leading him around by the nose, showing him off to her crowd of bejeweled and coiffed cronies. Plus, she assumed he wanted to be there, and people generally saw what they expected to see. Thank God she was thirty years older than he was.

Not that the age difference would bother her, Mitch thought with a shudder.

He glanced around the room. He should be mingling—that’s what he was there for. But he’d never heard such inane conversation, such a waste of breath. If he heard one more exchange of “You look fabulous!” he might rip off his tux and hurl his drink at the oversize canvas wall-hanging people had repeatedly informed him was “an original.”

An original what? It looked like someone threw up against the wall.

“So?” Della asked, jolting him out of his daydream. “You enjoying my little shindig?”

Della was from Detroit, Michigan, but her latest late husband had made his fortune in Texas oil, and she grabbed every opportunity to “sling a little West,” as she called it. Her teeth-jarring and inconsistent accent was at complete odds with the cool, sleek mansion Mitch had built for her, but then, Mitch couldn’t imagine the home that would suit her.

“Great,” Mitch said. “Great shindig.”

Della patted his cheek, her chins jiggling with the movement. “Liar! You hate this sort of thing. Bowing and scraping before people with more money than brains. Right now I imagine you’re trying to come up with an excuse to leave.”

Mitch looked away, willing his face not to react.

“Well, you can’t go just yet,” she said, a mischievous expression on her troll face. “I’ve got a surprise for you later.”

He didn’t think it was possible to get more depressed.

“Oh, don’t worry, handsome. It’s a good surprise. You’ll love it.”

“Really.” Because their tastes were so aligned? He forced himself to smile.

“I’m going to make all your dreams come true.” She waited for his reaction, but he’d gone still, afraid to hope. “Aren’t you going to ask for details? Oh, hell! I’ve got a few more cheeks to not kiss. I don’t even know why I invited half these people, but too late now.”

His heart was beating so hard he could barely swallow.

“Don’t worry, this crowd is used to hearing me say what I think. They can’t afford to risk offending me and I confess, it’s amusing as hell!”

He winced at her cackle, but the guests around her were carefully, deliberately oblivious. He tried to remember a single name, but between personal trainers, tanning beds, cosmetics and surgeons, one artfully beautiful matron was more or less interchangeable with the next. The men were hardly better; every hand he’d shaken tonight had been soft as a baby’s. No calluses here.

That’s what made Della Fontaine so fascinating in a must-stare-at-the-car-wreck sort of way. She didn’t bother competing or pretending. She was an anomaly in this group, the richest of the rich, impervious to public opinion, able to speak and act and look and live exactly as she pleased, appropriate or not. Jabba the Hutt of Mercer Island.

And the thing about it was, if Della Fontaine decided to wear a tutu, tiny frothy skirts would suddenly be all the rage.

But she was canny enough to know that if she weren’t wallowing in wealth, she’d be cut out of their circle so fast it’d send her tacky twenty-four-karat-gold tiara spinning. They didn’t like her, but they couldn’t afford to let it show.

Mitch would do anything for that kind of freedom. Well, he amended, remembering Della’s predatory eye, almost anything.

“Welcome, darling,” Della murmured again, leaning her powdered cheek toward that of yet another sorority sister. “It’s been too long.”

“You must tell me your secret, Della,” said whoever she was. “You look fabulous.”

And that did it. A crazed laugh rose in Mitch’s throat, where it collided with a mouthful of champagne, sending it down the wrong pipe.

“Oh dear, Mitchell,” Della said. She looked alarmed, but that might have just been the way she’d drawn on her eyebrows. She gave him a linen napkin. “Are you all right?”

He waved his hand and nodded, pointing to the vestibule.

“Of course, of course.” She shooed him away. Della wouldn’t want her pet to make a mess on the carpet, after all.

Mitch stumbled, coughing, through the vast and vaulted rooms until he came to the veranda overlooking Lake Washington. He leaned against the wide, curved stone wall and, his throat ready to function again, sucked in the sweet night air drifting in off the water.

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