She could have pumped a fist in the air at the surprised that coloured his eyes at that one! And then from one heartbeat to the next his brow furrowed and she sat and watch as the brain behind the dauntingly beautiful eyes whir into life. It hadn’t occurred to her that he might leave, but the longer he sat there, staring at her card, the more she wondered. And hoped he’d stay.
He finally, finally, pocketed her card and said, “And to think you all but accused me of being a possible psycho killer.”
“I’m a mathematician, “she said. “Not exactly the same.”
“I thought the point was that people lie.”
“I—What?” Irked didn’t even touch on how that made her feel. Punctuating her words with a waggly finger, Haerim said, “I said I was looking for someone to talk to, which is completely true.”
“One eyebrow cocked. “Safer to say it was bending the truth?”
“Not exactly. It’s not my fault you misunderstood my meaning.”
She crossed her arms, knowing she sounded defensive. But it was hard to be all sweetness and light when he was watching her the way he was. All charm and half smiles were gone as he looked her over, as if he was sizing her up for something. Hopefully not a hole in the ground.
Then he did some surprising of his own when he next said, “My motives for dating online aren’t altogether pure either.”
Ignoring the ‘altogether pure’ jab, Haerim attempted to raise an eyebrow right back at him. But she’d never mastered the skill, so probably ended up looking astounded. She schooled her features back to normal. “You said you were after a date for a wedding?”
“I am. But recent events have meant my needs have altered a little.”
“Do I need to call my back-up plan?”
He laughed—a masculine, husky sound that made her knees clench together.
“The greater problem for me is that I have three sisters who seem to think it’s their mission in life to find me a wife. So I let slip that I already have a date for the wedding, and that this date and I are…seeing each other.”
“Let me get this straight. There are no women in your life who would happily go to a wedding with you, so you made one up?”
“None that would understand that it wasn’t the beginning of something more.”
Okay. Now that she had met the guy, she could see that. Haerim felt herself nodding.
He went on, “What I need, Haerim, as well as a wedding date, is someone who would be willing to be my girlfriend.”
Still nodding, she realised he’d stopped talking and was looking at her intently. As if waiting for an answer.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?”
“Are you dating anyone at the moment?”
“I wouldn’t have signed up for this if I had a significant other.”
“So, how do you feel if we do this?”
“Are you sure about this?” she asked, incredulous.
He bit his lips, weighing out his options one last time. Well, to hell with that. She was nobody’s—
“Yes.” He said, with a determined nod.
“Right.” Haerim so wished she had pen and paper at hand as what–ifs, problems and possibilities, questions and escape routes burst inside her head, spearing away into a million tangents. This arrangement seemed to have more difficulties and a part of her felt reluctant to commit into it.
“But really, can’t you tell your sisters no? Tell them…whatever your problem really is?”
Secret wife? Secret identity? Secret difficulty in the bedroom? She itched to ask.
But when a muscle twitched in Baekhyun’s cheek and a moment later he lifted a thumb to his right temple, she thought best not. Best not tell him his idea is crazy either. Pretend girlfriend? Sheesh! Only he didn’t look crazy, she thought, looking at him more carefully. He looked like he was at the end of his rope.
And just like that, the curly tingles in her belly pinged into perfect straight lines.
Could it be possible that Byun Baekhyun needed her after all?
It had been months since she’d felt that flicker of purpose. Just because one man had thrown her benefaction back in her face so cruelly, it didn’t mean she wasn’t damn good at it.
“You’re serious?” she asked.
Baekhyun’s thumb stopped rubbing his temple and he looked her dead in the eye. Haerim tried her very best to not wriggle as all that gorgeous intensity trickled through her like over-carbonated bubbly.
“As serious as a man can be,” he said.
Chanyeol arrived at that moment, with a plate of piping hot garlic bread and soup accompanied by a basket of fried seafood and a bowl of crisp green salad. But, while Haerim usually had to stop herself from leaning over and kissing the plate, her eyes never once left Baekhyun’s.
“Buon appetito!” Chanyeol said cheerfully.
As one Baekhyun and Haerim said, “Grazie.”
And then they both smiled.
Haerim took a breath. “I’m…” Flabbergasted, bemused, actually considering this? “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m not sure if I can pull it off. You’re—not the kind of man I usually date.”
“You might be surprised to know that you’re not the kind of women I usually date either,” Baekhyun said, laughing as if the world had finally found its natural order.
She kind of wanted to kick him in the shin. In fact…
“Oof!” he said, sitting up and rubbing at the spot.
“Sorry.” She shuffled on her seat, as if that had been her intention the whole time. “So how would this work, exactly?”
“It’s the first Saturday in spring. You free?”
She did the math in her head. “I believe so.”
“That’s how it’s done.” And then he smiled, as if the deal was done. Poor love. He had no idea what he was in for.
Haerim bit into her bread, enjoying the explosion of flavours bursting in before asking, “So, what do I get out of this?”
“The deal. You’re getting a girlfriend…” She paused when the guy actually winced at the word.
“What do you want, Haerim?” he asked, charm forming between the words like mercury.
“I want what I wanted from the beginning. To get the low down on online dating.” But if she could save time, money, by having a guinea pig do it for her…
“Here’s the low down,” Baekhyun said. “It’s as much of a crap shoot as closing your eyes and picking someone out of the phone book. I should know. You’re my seventh.”
dropped open. “You’ve asked six other women to pretend to date you?”
His mouth kicked into a smile while his eyes came over all dark and intense, lit with that flicker of heat. “I’ve been on six dates,” he corrected. “I asked only you.”
“Oh.” Well, that was kind of nice. “But I still need first-hand experience for my study—“
He shook his head, his eyes not leaving hers. “No dating between now and then. I won’t either. Goes without saying.”
“Good to know. But I was actually going to suggest that maybe you could be the subject of my piece.”
A muscle flickered in his cheek and she wondered how long it would be before he was rubbing at that temple of his again. “Haerim, I’m not talking to you about my dating habits. My private life is just that. Private.”
He looked as if he meant it. But Haerim had always found that men liked talking about themselves. So she wasn’t really worried on that score. She’d find a way to get to the h