The Borrowed Boyfriend(3)

By: Ginny Baird

All Grady could see of Allison was her coffee mug and one flannel-sleeved arm. Kate peered his way and Grady quickly lowered his gaze to his screen, where the ten-day forecast scrolled across the bottom. He’d already set his weather app for Montego Bay in anticipation of all that warmth and sunshine.

“Not next week, he doesn’t,” Kate informed Allison. “He had his assistant clear his calendar because we were going to Jamaica. Amanda was supposed to go to this conference, but then she had her baby three weeks early.” Grady could picture Kate shrugging deferentially, but he didn’t dare peek again. “Kind of unavoidable. You know.”

Kate had only told him about the change in plans last night, and he still hadn’t decided what his next move should be. Grady was half considering going to Jamaica by himself. Except that Kate had probably booked them one of those love suites with a heart-shaped Jacuzzi overlooking a cove. It might feel a little awkward sipping champagne in it all alone. Kate was always doing things like that, going way overboard on accommodations. He suspected it was because she liked snapping couple selfies and sending them to her older sister, Marie, a stay-at-home mom with three kids and a very happy marriage. Kate was always trying to one-up Marie by proving how glamorous her life was. Perhaps he could change rooms? Or maybe even travel destinations? His meetings had already been moved to the following week, and it would be a headache for his assistant, Diane, to rearrange things again.

“And he’d say yes to this because…?” Allison asked.

A sharp silence followed. There was obviously no reason Kate could think of. Grady couldn’t imagine what would make him agree to such a ludicrous idea either. Little snippets of conversation started coming back to him, things that Kate had told him in utter confidence regarding Allison’s nonexistent love life. She had this annual reunion     with old college friends during which everyone brought their significant other. For one reason or another, each year Allison had failed to appear with a match. Since Allison couldn’t find a man for herself, her friends had started hunting them for her. Grady guessed Allison was stressed that her friends were applying so much pressure, but seriously, Katie’s plan was totally wack. Not only that, it was patently dishonest.

So yeah, maybe pretending to be Allison’s boyfriend would be more of a white lie than a bald-faced one. Grady could see that the intention behind it wasn’t to hurt anyone. In fact, as Kate had proposed things, the reverse was true. Allison would feel less hassled while her friends could finally sit back and relax. Without them having to worry about their regular matchmaking duties—and Allison fretting over their efforts—everyone could truly unwind and enjoy each other’s company. The ruse could work out splendidly for everybody but Grady, who would probably have a much better time in Jamaica.

Grady wasn’t obtuse. Even before he’d overheard Kate’s comment, it had been painfully obvious that Allison didn’t care for him. He didn’t know if it was his job or his personality she disliked, but something about him must have rubbed Allison the wrong way. She’d scarcely said two words to him since he and Kate had started dating. And that suited Grady fine. He and Allison couldn’t have been more different if they tried.

Grady was grounded, analytical and in control; she was free-spirited, artistic and a mess. Grady had peered inside Allison’s bedroom from the hall. Art supplies and clothing were piled so high you couldn’t even see the floor! And she never ever made her bed. There was nothing on earth that could make spending a week at a chilly northeastern beach with her sound better than being in balmy Montego Bay solo, except…

A little lightbulb went on in Grady’s head, almost like the ones in cartoon bubbles. But this lightbulb was shaped like a wine bottle with a lovely handcrafted label. The kind produced by Allison’s boutique operation, Bella Fortuna Wine Designs. Of course! Why hadn’t he considered that angle earlier? Grady was this close to cutting an international distribution deal. Purposeful product repackaging could be the key to his success.

Grady had been interviewing advertisers and industrial designers, searching for an entity that could help give his product the proper global slant. Perhaps he’d been casting his net too wide and he needed to narrow his focus? A specialty company like Allison’s Bella Fortuna might be just the ticket to designing packaging with flair—something sophisticated yet fresh that would appeal to the international market. The trouble was that it was well known in the industry that Bella Fortuna Wine Designs prided itself on staying true to its original mission. The label supplier supported local vintners by sticking to an elite client list.