Kiara gritted her teeth all through the rehearsal dinner as she sat next to Ashton, faking smiles and making polite small talk in his parents’ formal dining room at a stunning table that easily seated forty people.
Alice had chosen the tasteful decorations, a pretty pastel pink and pearl theme that encompassed everything from the napkins to the understated tea rose centrepieces. Everything looked perfect; everyone laughed and chatted while she screamed on the inside.
She couldn't do this anymore.
Pretending to be Ashton's girlfriend had become all too real and she needed to extricate herself from this farcical arrangement ASAP.
"Cheers." Ashton tapped his champagne flute against hers and she forced a smile as she returned the clink.
Thankfully, the last speech from Greg, the doting groom-to-be, had finished and she downed her champagne in three gulps.
"Easy." Ashton laid a hand on her forearm, sending a lick of heat up her arm. She'd miss this: the undeniable sexual chemistry that sparked between them with a simple touch. "I don't want to have to carry my drunk girlfriend out of here."
He chuckled at his joke but his grin waned when she glared at him.
"I'm not your girlfriend," she muttered, her breath whooshing out on an angry hiss.
He stared in open-mouthed shock as she pushed back from the table and bolted. She made it as far as the library before he caught her, snagging her arm so she had no option but to stop.
"Hey, what was that all about?"
"Dumb question from a smart guy." She shrugged him off and wrapped her arms around her middle to stave off the sudden chill making her skin pebble. "What do you think? Pretend time is over. Time to end this charade."
The confusion in his eyes gave way to a steely blue. "So that's all this has been to you, pretence?"
"Of course," she snapped, knowing it was imperative that she convince him her lie was real. "It's ridiculous to pretend otherwise."
She scored a direct hit, flinging his callous words back in his face. He blanched and took a step back.
"You overheard my conversation with Greg."
"I did, and it was most enlightening—"
"But I didn't mean it." He held his hands out, palms up, like he had nothing to hide. "I'd had a gutful of his matchmaking rubbish so I said that for him to leave us alone."
A fraction of the ice surrounding her heart splintered courtesy of his rationale. But this couldn't end well no matter how hard she'd dared to hope. A confirmed playboy and a divorce lawyer? What had she been thinking?
"This fling had an expiration date from the beginning," she said with a diffident shrug. "You have your precious promotion and the wedding is tomorrow, so we're done."
"What if I want more?" Desperation laced every word as he reached for her but she sidestepped around a mahogany bookshelf. "I can't lose you—"
"You already did, the moment you coerced me into taking part in this stupid charade in the first place for your personal gain."
Shell-shocked, he leaned against the nearest cabinet like she'd kicked him in the guts. Good. Now he'd know how she felt every time she'd be forced to see him at family gatherings in the future, knowing she'd fallen hard for him yet he'd seen her as nothing more than a plaything.
"Kiara, please. I care about you—"
"No." With pain gripping her chest in a vice she glared at him with feigned disdain before walking away.
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