A/N:Just a short novel involving a cliche I don't see as often as I'd like. Contract marriage!
Rated M because I'm a pervert.
The Hunt is On
The first words that sprung to mind, when Richard Madden was told about his ultimatum, was contract marriage.
Told was the incorrect expression. Reminded, would be a better fit.
Scowling, Richard loosened his tie after cancelling his three PM appointment. He asked for it to be rescheduled, whilst his brain worked overtime and ideas raced through his skull. Contract marriages were reserved for cheesy rom-com flicks, or people counting on getting their green card to not be kicked out of the country. Richard belonged in neither category. He was neither the lead of a cheesy rom-com, nor did he have someone begging on their knees asking for his hand.
If anything, Richard had avoided all talk of marriage for fifteen years, ever since he struck that inane agreement with his parents.
John and Susie came from old money. They hadn't been happy when Richard had gone opposite their wishes of joining their family-run yachting business. Sure it had a billion dollar turnover, but how could he run a yachting business, when he couldn't even stand the sight of open water? Poor experiences throughout childhood, had shaped his mind into something different. He was interested in property. Big property. Acquiring land and building complexes on it. Instead, not wanting to affect his credit score, he'd done what any stringent twenty-year-old would do.
He asked his parents for help.
And they'd agreed.
On one condition - he had to be married and settled by the age of thirty-five. If there was no-one in the horizon, then he would have to agree to whatever match his parents made without a fuss.
Namely Celia Hodgkins, a B movie actress turned socialite, whose parents were intimately close with his.
Over the years, both parents had sighed over their offspring. Celia was too interested in partying and shallow hook-ups to settle down. Richard found it hard to hold down a girlfriend for more than six months. Over the years, Richard had a reputation of finishing...early. He was cool and analytical in the business sense, but put him in a woman and he'd lose his mind.
It started off as a minor problem, but self-imposed celibacy and previous perfomances, had snowballed his issues into something out of this spectrum. Richard loved sex. The problem was he couldn't get anyone to do it repetitively with him. Once he'd hired a hooker, but even that ended before it got to anything interesting.
The closest he got to sympathy was Helen Hunt.
When he was twenty-five, a young woman moved into the apartment next door. They started as friends, connecting over shared likes and dislikes, and found they had a surprisingly a lot in common. The relationship ended after six months, but a couple of years later, after she'd broken up with a recent boyfriend, she'd turned up outside Richard's door and they'd had drunken sex. She hadn't seemed all that thrilled in the morning, but when he'd spoken softly about it, she'd sympathized and put an arm around him.
Over the years, they kept in and out of touch until Helen emailed him out of the blue, ten days ago.
She'd been asking for a small loan.
Enough to finish her Graduate studies.
And he couldn't think of a better vice, to get the woman he liked best out of his past exploits, to be his new wife.
"Hello Richard," Helen said unhappily, as she set down her bag and seated herself opposite him. Time had been kind to Helen Hunt. Physically, she was just his type. Short, big breasted and hips that were perfect to fall through. She'd colored her hair blonde, but her real shade was more like amber. Richard took a sip of water, doing a quick once over and feeling relieved there was no rings on any of her fingers. Didn't mean she wasn't taken, but there was a good chance there was no husband waiting in the wings.
"Helen." He nodded.
"You wanted to meet me?"
"You should order first."
"That's quite all right." She eyed him suspiciously. "I've just had lunch."
She studied him more closely, hesitating. "Richard...there has been other women, hasn't there?"
Surprise colored his response. He lied without thinking, then kicked himself for not being upfront. She needed to know the truth, but it was too late now. "Yes."
"Good." She gave a sigh of relief like that put her mind at ease. "For a second, you had me worried...I thought you rang because you wanted to resume our sexual relationship or something." She reached out for her water, and took a mirroring sip.
Richard said softly, "That too."
Helen choked. A bit of water went all down her suit.
He watched passionless, as she grabbed a serviette and dabbed the front of her blouse, before warily looking up. Richard looked like the consummate professional. Smartly dressed, ice blue eyes and a head full of thick, black hair. Although numerous boyfriends had told Helen she had a body made for sin, she hadn't really felt a spark until all those evenings she spent with Richard. She'd been looking forward to their first night, practically unheard of with other lovers, whom she put off as long as possible. But all that spark, all that chemistry...Richard did nothing for her in the bedroom. He couldn't even make her wet. The only reason why it worked a couple times, was because she touched herself to slickness, or else it would've hurt like a bitch. Richard knew nothing about foreplay, and rutted like an animal. One or two deep thrusts and he was spent, and on his way to snoresville.
She didn't want to revisit those scenes, though she would always value him as a friend.
"Richard..." she said warningly.
"What?" He stared at her, and there was a hint of carnal knowledge in his gaze. He always looked at her with heat, whatever the situation. Helen blushed. Whatever she said about the man, he had intimate knowledge of her body. He'd spent time inside her. Okay, it was quick and barely worth mentioning - but he possessed that knowledge all the same.
"Where is this leading?"
He took a deep breath. There it was. The crux of the matter.
"I'll be willing to lend you the money," he said, "but only if you do something for me in return."
Helen huffed. "I'm not sleeping with you, so you'll pay off my Graduate Loan."
She leaned down to pick up her bag, but Richard stopped her, with a hand to her arm. He still smelled good. A tinge of wildness and masculinity about him.
"You don't have to sleep with me if you don't want to," he said desperately. "I like you, Helen. More than you'll ever know. It's why it has to be you...or nobody. And I really don't want it to be nobody."
"And why is that?" she asked curiously, straightening up.
He closed his eyes like he was in pain. "My parents are setting me up. With some money-grabbing socialite, who's done sleeping with half of Hollywood." He opened them again. "When I was twenty, I stupidly agreed to one of their conditions so they could give me some money. They're worried about the Madden fortune. Want a heir to pass it down to, even if it's not me. If I wasn't settled down by thirty-five...they were going to take the choice out of my hands."
Helen sympathized, "That's terrible, Richard. But can't you just dictate to them that you're a grown man now with your own choices to make?"
Richard's fingernails shaped into a claw, as he rearranged the cutlery without looking up. A waitress was hovering near the counter, waiting to be called over, but it looked unlikely for the foreseeable future. "That's the thing." He barely looked up. "I signed a contract in front of a lawyer. They are legally able to enforce me."
"That really is stupid." She viewed him in a new light. "Never knew you could be so stupid, Richard."
"All right!" he snapped. "I get the point! Now will you marry me or not?"
Again a slow blink.
"You want me to...marry you?"
"Yes. That's all I expect. Sleeping with you will be a bonus, but if you don't want to, I won't force the issue. You're not in a relationship, right?" He still found the cutlery very interesting.
For a few seconds, Helen felt tempted to lie.
Yes, she did have a boyfriend. What was he going to do about it?
But in the end she didn't, for reasons she couldn't explain.
"No..." she said slowly.
"Great." He looked up at her, eyes bright. "Then will you do it?"
Helen threw her hands up. "Whoa, shackle up buddy. I can't just agree headlong into this thing. I need more details ironed out. How long will we be contractually obliged to stay married? Is the alternative of going with your parent's choice so bad? And how convincing do I need to be?"
A grin started to form on Richard's face, but he quickly hid it with an impassive look.
"They expect a child."
Helen's eyebrows shot up. "And the last time I checked, that required having sex Richard. I'm not having sex with you, just to give you a child."
"No need." He kept his face stoic. "I'm going to fake infertility. The news will rock our marriage, and we'll slowly drift apart. The maximum I require you to spend with me is around...eight months? Enough to make it convincing."
"Richard, last time I couldn't even last six months with you," Helen deadpanned. "Eight months? Isn't that a bit presumptuous? Won't your parents force you to marry again?"
Richard sighed and rolled his eyes. "If I could just fake infertility to get out of this, I would. But it's there in black and white. I need to be married. Even if it's just the once. Don't make me beg, Helen, please. You need the cash, and I need a living, breathing woman to show off to them. We like each other. Time spent between us certainly won't be a hindrance. Move in with me?"
For the second time, Helen choked, this time on thin air.
"You need to let me think." Helen stood up. "I'll call you later."
She took two steps away from the table, and turned speculatively just in time to see Richard unfolding himself from his chair, holding onto his tie. "Can I see anyone else during that time? If I wished?"
He froze, looking at her guardedly. "Why?"
Just to push him, she said with blase, "For sex."
His nostrils flared, and he looked close to losing his temper. Interesting.
"If you want to have sex, have it with me," he said shortly, hints of possession showing through. Then the fire died, and he almost looked pleading. "You have eight months, Helen. Eight months to train me to be the perfect lover. I want to learn." He dragged a frustrated hand through his hair. "Don't you think I'm aware of my shortcomings and want to improve? My stamina is piss poor. You just have to rub by against me slightly, and I blow a gasket. Especially you, Helen." He stared straight into her soul, nearly taking her breath away. "Only you."