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THERE was no way this was going to work. No way she was ever going to be able to persuade anyone that a hired escort was her partner for real, Tilly decided grimly. But why should she care? Given free choice, she wouldn't even be going to the wedding. Her mother hadn't picked a decent partner yet, and Tilly had no faith in her having done so this time. And as for Art's family... Tilly tried to picture her fun-loving, rule-breaking, shock-inducing mother living happily within the kind of family set-up she had described to Tilly in her e-mails, and failed.
The marriage would not last five minutes. In fact it would, in Tilly's opinion, be better if it never took place at all—even if her mother was adamant that she was finally truly in love.
She was a fool for letting herself be dragged into her mother's life to act the part of the happily engaged daughter. But, as always where anything involving her mother was concerned, it was always easier to give in than to object.
The only thing Tilly had ever been able to hold out about against her mother was her own determination never to fall in love or marry.
"But, darling, how can you say that?" her mother had protested when Tilly had told her of her resolve. "Everyone wants to meet someone and fall in love with them. It's basic human instinct."
"What if I find out that I'm not in love with them any more, or they aren't in love with me?"
"Well, then you find someone else." 'Only to marry again, and then again when that doesn't work out? No, thanks, Ma."
Mother and daughter they might be, and they might even share the same physical characteristics, but sisters under the skin they were most definitely not.
No? Who was she kidding? Wasn't it true that deep down she longed to meet her soul mate, to find that special someone to whom she'd feel able to give herself completely, with whom she'd feel able to remove all those barriers she had erected to protect herself from the pain of loving the wrong man? A man strong enough to believe in their love and to demolish all her own doubts, noble enough to command not just her love but her respect, human enough to show her his own vulnerability—oh, and of course he must be sexy, gorgeous, and have the right kind of sense of humour. The kind of man that came by the dozen and could be found almost anywhere then, really, she derided herself. Just as well she had never been foolish enough to tell anyone about him. What would she say? Oh, and by the way, here's a description of my wish for Christmas...
Get a grip, she warned herself sternly. He—her 'fiancé", and most definitely not soul mate—would be here any minute. Tilly frowned. She had e-mailed him last night to explain in exact detail what his role would involve, and to say that he would be required to pose convincingly as her fiancé in public. And only in public. No matter how many times Sally had assured her that she had nothing to worry about, and that hiring an escort was a perfectly reasonable and respectable thing to do, Tilly was not totally convinced.
Luckily, because she hadn't taken any time off during the summer, getting a month's leave from her job now had not been a problem. However, she could just imagine what the reaction of the young and sometimes impossibly louche male trainee bankers who worked under her would be if they knew what she was doing.
Other women in her situation might think of themselves as being let loose in a sweet shop at having so many testosterone-charged young men around. Tilly, however, tended to end up mothering her trainees more than anything else.
She tensed when she heard the doorbell ring, even though she had been waiting for it. It was too late now to wish she had taken Sally up on her offer to go into work later, so that she could vet the escort agency's choice.
The doorbell was still ringing. Stepping over her suitcase, Tilly went to open the door, tugging it inwards with what she had intended to be one smooth, I'm-theone-in-control-here movement.
But her intention was sabotaged by the avalanche of female, hormone-driven reactions that paralysed her, causing her to grip hold of the half-open door.