Faking It

By: Carly Phillips

Chapter One

As Hailey Ellison crossed the street toward her eleven-thirty appointment, she decided it should be against every rule in the universe for a man to be as devastatingly gorgeous as Max Sterling. Why? Because it just wasn’t fair to expect any woman to have to function professionally in his presence when all she really wanted to do was swoon at his sheer masculinity.

She approached the man in question, whose attention was on his phone as he typed out either an email or a text, a troublesome frown furrowing his brow. But even a scowl on his handsome face couldn’t detract from the butterflies suddenly taking flight in her stomach. And lucky her . . . the fact that he was otherwise distracted at the moment gave her the opportunity to admire him for a few extra seconds.

No hardship there, she thought with a dreamy sigh.

As a top-notch luxury real estate broker in Chicago, and her agent of three months, Max always looked the part and dressed to impress—tailored suits, designer shoes, and silk ties. She’d never seen him in anything other than business attire, but even as impeccable and well put together as he always looked, his dark brown hair was perpetually a tousled mess, which only added to his attractiveness, along with that glimmer of bad-boy charm he exuded. His lips were full and sensual and quick to smile—unlike at the moment—and those mesmerizing hazel eyes of his never ceased to make her weak-kneed and tongue-tied.

For an average, ordinary-looking woman like her, sexy and sophisticated Max Sterling was way out of her league and nothing more than an enjoyable fantasy she indulged in way too often. He’d never given her any indication of interest in her other than as his client, had never overtly flirted with her, and was always the epitome of a gentleman whenever they were together. Over the past three months, they’d established an easy, comfortable business relationship, and no inappropriate lines had ever been crossed—physically or verbally.

Then again, there was no reason for him to behave any differently toward her, especially when he believed she was engaged to someone else—a fabrication she perpetuated for both business and personal reasons. The day they’d met for the first time at his Premier Realty office, he’d noticed the diamond solitaire on her left-hand ring finger. He’d been quick to congratulate her on her upcoming nuptials and had treated her with nothing but respect ever since.

She’d been relegated to the friend zone, which kind of sucked, because Max Sterling was the first man in a long time who made her regret wearing a ring on her finger, and her reasons for it being there. Every time they were together, he made her wish that she was more sexually confident and felt less inadequate when it came to her body image. Beneath the size-fourteen clothing she now wore was still that insecure fat girl who’d been ridiculed for her weight for most of her life. The chubby teenager who’d been told more times than she could count that she had such a pretty face and gorgeous hair, and it was such a shame that she was so heavy. That same girl who’d given her virginity to the first guy she’d dated in college after losing over seventy pounds, only to have him end their short-lived relationship the next day over one single, devastating text: I’m sorry, but I’m just not into fat chicks.

That incident had put a stranglehold on her confidence, and even now, at the age of twenty-six, those cruel words still haunted her. Of course, she’d gone out with other men since then, but that fear and distrust were always lingering in the back of her mind, forcing her to relive that humiliating incident and reminding her just how imperfect she truly was.

She didn’t have to pay a therapist for her to realize that those deeply rooted self-doubts were the impetus for why she managed to sabotage every relationship she’d had since college before anything intimate developed. It was purely a defense mechanism to protect her heart and emotions, and six months ago, after breaking things off with the man she’d been dating because he’d wanted more sexually, she’d decided that, for now, it was best if she kept her focus on growing her company to the next level, because men, and her insecurities, only made the entire mix more complicated.

She’d never been in love, and yes, she was painfully aware of what a contradiction that was considering she made a living as a professional matchmaker. She had a stellar reputation for being one of the best dating services in Chicago for the wealthy and affluent. She might not have found love for herself, but she was damn good at matching others. Her success rate was nearly ninety percent, and that credibility along with word of mouth had her business, the Ellison Agency, booming.

Which was why she was in the market for just the right piece of property to purchase so she could expand beyond the cramped office space she’d been using for the past four years. Max had shown her at least a dozen places over a three-month period, but so far, she’d yet to find the one, and she refused to settle for anything less than the dream office building she envisioned.