Home > For The Taking

For The Taking
Author: Brenna Aubrey

Prologue

 

 

Katya


I got married in a fast-food restaurant booth, on an extended lunch break squeezed into a sixty-hour crunch workweek.

Not gonna lie, this wedding was far from the stuff of dreams. My soon-to-be husband on the other hand? He’d probably starred in several—or even dozens—of fantasies. Not mine, of course.

This marriage was strictly a professional transaction. Ahem.

Lucas Walker, my co-worker, erstwhile nemesis and now bridegroom sat across the Formica table from me. He was tall and broad shouldered, with sultry eyes the color of melted chocolate. And he had that angular cut to his scruffy jaw that transformed a good-looking man into a remarkably handsome one.

My future husband. When we walked out of this burger joint, Lucas would be my legal spouse.

And I’d be his wife.

“Okay, let’s do this.” My friend and roommate, Heath Bowman, cracked his knuckles. Then he pushed aside the receipt for our lunch order so he could spread out the marriage license paperwork on the table. He turned to dart a glance at me beside him. “Thanks for filling all this out, by the way. That’s going to make this go a lot quicker.” His blue eyes flicked back to the page and he tensed as if remembering something. “Oh shit, I forgot we need someone else.”

Lucas leaned forward, staring through narrowed eyes at Heath with that intense gaze. “Someone else? Why are we involving anyone else in this insanity?”

Heath looked up. “At least one witness. It’s California law.”

We all froze and stared at each other. Should we call in a co-worker? No, definitely not. A friend of mine or of Lucas’s? My gaze flicked to his and he stilled. I knew he was going to blame this on me somehow. I saw it in his glare. He did it at work often enough.

Cranberry, you are always getting into these weird-ass situations, he’d intoned at me when I’d proposed this whole thing at a coffee shop the week before. Now you’re dragging me into it?

I blinked, my eyes focusing on the stylized red palm trees lining the tiled walls all around us.

Record scratch. Freeze Frame.

Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…

So yeah. It all started about three weeks ago. Just before New Year’s, I’d left the U.S. to go to my friends’ fancy Caribbean destination wedding. As you do. But Customs and Immigration nailed me when I came back into the country.

They made the wild accusation that I, a hardworking, somewhat innocent Canadian girl, who minded her own business, had been working in the US illegally. With no special visa or permit! And no legal residency!

The actual nerve.

They were correct. No alternative facts. But damn, they didn’t have to be so mean about it, threatening to kick me out of the United States of America for good.

The feds didn’t care that I’d rebuilt my life anew, kissing the old one goodbye—for so many reasons I was grateful they didn’t dig into. In the US, I was working my dream job and putting past troubles behind me. I had a new group of friends here who loved me probably more than my own family did.

But to them, none of that mattered.

In that tiny room at the airport, they’d threatened me with deportation. And I’ll admit, I panicked. In the heat of the moment, with all their fingers pointing straight at me, I’d blurted out the first lie that popped into my head: I was getting married. To Lucas, my team member from work. An American citizen.

And boy, did that lie multiply and divide and reproduce like a feverish virus. Since popping the question, my life had taken an even crazier turn. Once I’d explained my predicament in intricate detail, to my shock Lucas had agreed to help me.

Heath spoke again. “In order to be legally married in the state of California, you’re required a licensed officiant.” Heath placed a large hand on his own chest. “That’s me. Then you need to declare out loud, when asked, that you take each other as your legal spouse. And we need a goddamn witness to sign this license.”

Someone from the booth behind Lucas jerked his head in our direction. His look said it all… WTF?

Yeah buddy, I’m right there with you.

Lucas looked like he was ready to bolt, so I had to act fast. At that moment, I recognized our new eavesdropper’s uniform. He wore the white collared shirt and matching white nametag complete with In-N-Out Burger logo, the remains of his lunch on the empty tray in front of him. An employee on his lunch break.

Slipping out of the booth, I asked Heath, “You got cash on you?”

“I have a couple twenties, why?”

“Be right back with a witness,” was all I said while my future husband stared at me, wary and wide-eyed. Deer in the headlights.

In less than five minutes, I returned with our new “witness” who I instructed to squeeze into the booth beside my bewildered spouse-to-be. His nametag read Rob, so I introduced him to the other two.

“I gotta be back at work in fifteen,” Rob said in a tight, high-pitched voice. “You said there’s forty dollars in it for me?”

“Yup! Heath will pay you when you sign. This shouldn’t take that long, right?” I arched my brow at Heath, silently demanding he agree with me.

Heath blinked a few times, mouth opening at least half a minute before he spoke. “Uh, yeah, sure, sure. Fifteen minutes for the long version. You can split after you sign.”

Rob glanced between the three of us while tucking a longish strand of dark blond hair under his red cap. “Okay, then.”

Heath’s gaze flicked to me. “Do you, Katharina Rose Ellis, take Lucas Walker—” Heath squinted at the name I’d squeezed into the form. Until yesterday, I had no idea that my husband-to-be had another last name and Walker was his middle name. And that last name, it was a doozy. I’d run out of space in the blank while filling in the surname box, the letters spilling out into the margin.

“Lucas Walker van den Hoehnsboek van Lynden,” Lucas rattled off.

“That’s enough names for four people.” Heath snorted.

Lucas only responded by rolling his eyes and making a gesture that clearly meant, Let’s get on with this.

Heath’s gaze flicked back to me. “Okay, so Katya, do you take Lucas to be your legal husband?”

I couldn’t look Lucas in the eye, even knowing that he had his own good reasons for helping me. Things just got weird, so I stared at the tacky plastic tabletop and croaked out a quick “yes.” If I could’ve gotten away with a mere nod, I would’ve.

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