If Ben Solo could get married to anyone right now, it would be his PA. It would help make his life so much easier along with his work.
Unfortunately for him, she was already married and his mother's best friend. Also a lot of women didn't tend to stay around once they figured out he was particularly already married to his job. Loneliness was the price of catapulting Solo Capital Management into the big leagues of the venture capital game.
"You're a god send, Mrs. Holdo," Ben shot her a grateful smile and leaned back in his chair.
"I'm hardly call printing a business proposal saving your life," Amilyn Holdo glanced at her watch in a deliberate gesture designed to point out the time. "It's late and it's Friday. Take Bazine to that new restaurant downtown or go dancing and let me handle the rest. Go have some fun. It'll be good for you."
Ben grimaced and shifted in his seat. "Bazine and I split up. She's already seeing someone else I'm sure."
Hopefully, the new relationship would make her happy. She deserved a man who could shower her with attention she wanted. He regretted not being able to give her what she wanted, but it would be patently unfair to let Bazine keep hoping he would change.
"Of course she is. It's not like you ever saw her much," Amilyn crossed her arms and looked at Ben. "Now who are you going to take to the museum dedication?"
Ben let out a deep breath. He'd conveniently forgotten about that, but it wasn't as if he could not be there. The new children's museum in the Arts District bore his family's name, after all, since he'd donated money to build it. "You're free next Saturday, aren't you?"
Amilyn laughed as though Ben had been joking. "One of these days, I'm going to say yes when you ask me out and really mess with your head. Now, find someone else to take, I'm sure you have an endless list you who would drop everything to go out with you."
Yeah, he knew a lot of women on a regular basis who would like to go out with him to something like this. Or at least they thought they did, right up until they realized they wouldn't be satisfied with what little time and attention he could give them.
A vague hollow feeling invaded his gut, one he'd experienced more and more lately. He'd written it off an increased urgency to hit that elusive, un-achieved mark of success. But now that it had happened during a discussion about his personal life, he wasn't so convinced. He suspected it was loneliness.
"I hate dating," And small talk that came along with it. That getting to know someone else and invest that much energy he didn't care to expend. Solo Capital Management came first. Always.
"That's because you haven't dated the right one."
Here they went, off on her favorite subject. She never got tired of scolding him about the lack of a permanent female in his life Just like another woman in his life.
"Have you been talking with my mother again?"
"We went to lunch the other day, as a matter of fact. She says tell my son I said hi since he can't himself," Amilyn raised her eyebrows and planted guilt simultaneously, as Ben was sure she intended. He got it. He should call his mother.
"It's getting late," Ben was in what was no doubt a transparent attempt to change the subject. "Why don't you go home and I'll take the proposal to Garrett?"
He had until five to get it to Hux Engineering, formally expressing his interest in doing business with them.
What Steve Jobs was to cell phones, Armitage Hux was to internal combustion engines. Or would be, as soon as funding was in place. The partnership would result in a sizable, long term profit for both men, and Ben could do what he did best, pull strings behind the scenes.
If Ben won the deal with him.
No, not if. When.
Ben would not rest until his company hit that sweet spot of security, where longevity was a given, not a question mark. His first million hadn't done it. Neither had the first eight figures, because his profits went straight back into leveraged investments that wouldn't pay off until some point in the future. So he couldn't let up.
"Since you've ran off another female with your pursuit to work yourself into an early grave, be my guest," Amilyn waved her approval for Ben to deliver the proposal.
"By the way," Ben threw in as Amilyn pulled her handbag from a desk drawer. "I was thinking of having a gathering at my house to wine and dine Hux. If I ask nicely, would you plan it?"
"It's not my job to be your stand in wife," Amilyn said, her face had a stern look on her face now. In the eight years she'd been keeping him sane, he's seen that look a lot.
With a half laugh, Ben said. "Of course not. That's not part of your job description."
Except it did include things like that in her job. When his hair grew too long, Amilyn scheduled a haircut. His mother's birthday-Amilyn picked out a gift. She had his dry cleaning done as well.
Amilyn logged off her computer for the day. "Well, it should be part of someone's job description that wants to do it."
"What, like a party planner?" Maybe he should hire a professional in some capacity, which wouldn't cover all his social obligations. But it was better than nothing.
"Like a girlfriend. Or someone who might actually stick around in six weeks. Hire a wife," she said with a nod. "You need a good woman to take care of you outside of the work. She can schmooze Hux and make sure your life is running smoothly. Keep you warm at night would help as well. Might even get that sour look off your face, and put something else there."
Her eyebrows waggled but Ben barely noticed.
Hire a wife.
Could you even do such a thing? It seemed too perfect a solution.
He had no time or the desire to sift through women until he found one he liked but who wouldn't expect him to be available. Solo Capital Management did not manage itself. His employees and partners depended on him.
A wife couldn't leave him with no notice like someone else. It was the ultimate security.
Ben would have a permanent companion to help fill that occasional hollow feeling,one with no hidden agenda involving his assets and connections. They'd both know from the get go what to expect, stability. There'd be no hard feelings when she realized he hadn't been kidding about giving 100 percent to his company, leaving nothing left over for her.
All or nothing. Commitment was Ben's kryptonite. Once he latched on to something, he gave it everything and then some. Early on, he'd realized that trait was inherited and tried not to make same mistakes as his father. If he had an understanding wife, work and his personal life would remain completely separate. And best of all, Ben would never have to engage in small talk with a new woman or experience that sharp pang of guilt over canceling on one ever again. He tugged on his suit jacket and delivered the proposal to Hux's people in their downtown office.
Ben had to land this with Hux, and the wine and dine thing would be a fantastic opportunity to solidify his chances. A wife could handle the logistics, leaving Ben to engage in uninterrupted dialogue with Hux about what Solo Capital could do for him that no one else could.
When Ben returned to his darkened office later on, he sat at his laptop. Within minutes, Google provided a potential answer to the question on how to hire a wife. He'd had to wade through all the cleaning services and concierge services, then a few distasteful escort services, to find the definitive solution.
A matchmaking service.
He stared at the website, it looked professional and tasteful, with earth tones and a classic font. Most importantly, this particular matchmaker catered to exclusive clients, promising discretion and a money back guarantee. Guarantees warmed Ben's heart.
The tagline said it all. Let us help find you "the one."
They would do the screening, the interviewing, the background checks, and ultimately filter out candidates who were looking for some mystical connection.
It was brillant. The matchmaker would do everything required to find Ben the right one for him. One he could never disappoint. All he had to do was make a phone call.
Then, with that settled, he could get back to work.
Rey Niima never thought her wedding day would end up like this. She never could have envisioned it would involve a groom she'd never met in person. Or that in a few minutes, she'd be marrying Ben Solo in the living room of a matchmaker's house, with only a handful of guests in attendance. The matchmaker had matched her with businessman Ben Solo and he expected a wife with a certain refinement, one who dressed the part, acted the part, lived the part. Rey had spent the past month under the matchmaker's intensive tutelage to become exactly right for the part.
"What do you think, Grams?" Rey asked her only family member she had ever had. Rey's parents had both ran off and left little Rey with her maternal grandmother.
Rey's grandmother coughed profusely, hand to her chest as if she'd clear the scar tissue from her lungs through sheer will alone. "You're beautiful, darling," Enid Niima said when she'd recovered. "Every bit a proper wife. I'm so proud of what you've accomplished."
Two sharp raps at the door shoved Rey's heart into her throat. Rose Tico, her best friend popped in. "Oh, Rey. You look stunning."
Rey smiled demurely. She needed a lot of practice at being demure.
"Thanks to you."
"I didn't pick out that dress," Rose nodded once. "You did. It's perfect for your frame. I've never seen it suit someone so perfectly before."
"You're flawless. Ben's socks will be knocked off," Rose said.
And there went her pulse again.
She looked at herself in the mirror. Would Ben be happy with how she looked? The erect posture? The scared to death woman in the ecru dress? What if he didn't like brunettes?
She was being silly. He'd seen her picture, of course, as she'd seen his. They'd spoken on the phone twice. Their conversations had been pleasant and they'd worked through several important marital issues, they'd allow the intimate side of their relationship to evolve over time later on, a clarification that had clinched it since he didn't believe he was buying an "exchange of services," and he was open to them eventually having children together one day.
Neither of them had any illusions about the purpose of this marriage, a permanent means to an end.
Why was she so nervous about what was essentially an arranged marriage?
Her grandmother smoothed a hand over Rey's hair. "Soon you'll be Mrs. Ben Solo and all your dreams will come true. For the rest of your life, you'll have the security and companionship I never had." Racking coughs punctuated the sentiment and the ticking clock in Rey's mind sped up. Pulmonary fibrosis was killing her grandmother.
Rey was marrying Ben to save her.
And she'd never forget what she owed him.
"Ben's waiting for you," Rose opened the door wider. "Here's your bouquet. Simple and tasteful, with orchids and roses, like you requested."
The clutch of flowers nearly wrenched the tears loose from Rey's eyes. "It's beautiful. Everything is beautiful."
As she was about to walk out, Mrs. Holdo, Ben's secretary and family friend walked in. “I'd like a moment with you if I may?”
“Of course,” Rey said as her grandmother walked out.
“I know this isn't the perfect way you probably thought your wedding day would go. Wedding a stranger pretty much,” Amilyn said.
Rey could only nod.
“I want you give you some advice, Ben is just like his mother. Very determined and focused, but with the right person they love with every fiber of their being,” Amilyn said.
“What are you saying?” Rey asked.
“Seduce him, slowly and you'll be well rewarded,” Amilyn said with a wink as she walked out of the room.
Rey thought of how her grandmother needed expensive long term care, which neither of them could afford, so Rey gladly did whatever her grandmother needed, doctor's appointments, cooking, cleaning. Her parents had left so long ago, so it was the two of them against the world since the beginning.
Unfortunately, employers rarely forgave the amount of time Rey required to be off at times. After being let go from her last job, her situation felt pretty dire. She'd searched in vain for a work from home job or one with a more flexible schedule. After hours at the library's computer, she'd been about to give up when the ad from the matchmaker caught her eye.
Rey's stomach lurched. She wanted to enjoy being married. Would she be attracted to him? What if she wasn't? Would the intimate side of their marriage never happen? Maybe she should have insisted they meet first in spite of their mutual arrangement not to.
Ben had tons of money. She'd have been happy with enough just to get her grandmother better. That level of wealth intimidated her, but the matchmaker insisted she could handle it. After all, Rey would have a valued place in his life and she might eventually be the mother of his children eventually.
Fairy tales were stories about magical solutions to problems and full of people who fell in love, but whose relationships couldn't possibly stand the test of time. In real life, women had to make sacrifices and Rey was making hers.
So she took a deep breath and headed out, she stopped at the top of the staircase and took in the scene below.
A photographer was there to take pictures and a preacher was speaking with Ben, her soon to be husband.
He looked up and met her gaze.
A shock of...something zapped across her shoulders. He looked exactly like his picture, but in person-hello! He wore and expensive well designed suit encased in a masculine body Ben clearly kept in great shape. Classic, smooth features formed a face handsome enough to sell out an entire print run of GQ magazine if he was on the cover.
Ben also looked kind, as though he wouldn't hesitate to carry an elderly lady's groceries to the car. Rey almost snorted. If Ben Solo had been seen the inside of a grocery store, she'd eat her bouquet. He was a busy man and it was a good thing for her that he was, or he wouldn't need a wife.
Not for the first time, she wondered why he'd resorted to a matchmaker. He was good looking, rich and well spoken. By all rights, the eligible woman line should be wrapped around the block for him.
Eyes on Ben, she descended the stairs with practiced ease, she'd done it in four inch heels dozens of times and she didn't falter today despite the severity of the occasion. In far too few steps, she reached Ben. She searched his expression as he did the same to her. What did you say to a man you were about to marry but who you were seeing for the first time in the flesh? Hey, fancy meeting you here.
A hysterical giggle nearly slipped out. Not a way to begin.
"Hello," Well, that should be reasonably safe.
"Hello," Ben returned and smiled, setting off a nice, warm flutter in her chest.
Up close, he was solid and powerful, capable of carrying a baby in one arm and taking an attacker with the other. The flutter that thought set off was a little warmer and little more south than the first one. In theory, she'd known Ben equated to safety. But reality was far more...real. And affecting.
They faced front. Nerves locked Rey's knees and she tried to loosen them without drawing attention.
"Let's begin," The minister raised a Bible in his wrinkled hands and began reciting the vows Ben had insisted.
The words flowed from the minister's mouth, sounding completely different aloud than she would have imagined. For better of worse, richer or poorer. None of that really applied, not in the way it did for most couples. Those vow were a call to remember the reasons you fell in love in the first place when marriage got tough.
"Do you take Ben as your lawfully wedded husband?" the minister intoned.
Rey cleared her throat. "I do."
With a trembling hand, she slipped a plain platinum band on Ben's finger. Or tried to. She couldn't get it over the knuckle and when he covered her hand with his to assist, she glanced up to meet his dark eyes. That same shock she'd experienced on the stairs rocked her shoulders. It wasn't awareness, but deeper, as if she'd just seen someone she knew but couldn't place.
She shook it off. Nerves. That had to be it.
Ben repeated the same vows, "I do," his voice even and strong. Because he wasn't nervous. Why would he be, with all that masculine confidence?
The platinum band he slid on her finger matched his and winked in the living room's overhead lighting. She stared at it, transfixed by the sheer weight such a simple band added to her hand.
Divorce wasn't an option.
Ben represented security, not free money. And in exchange for that security, she'd be the wife he needed. This marriage was a permanent solution to their problems, not a love match. Which was fine by her.
The minister signaled the end of the short ceremony with the traditional, "You may kiss the bride."
Oh, why had she asked for that part? It was going to be so weird. But it was her wedding. Shouldn't she get a kiss from her husband? A kiss to seal their bargain. Ben turned to her, his expression unreadable. As his lips descended, she closed her eyes. Their mouths touched.
And held for a shimmering moment, launching a typhoon of flutters in her abdomen. Maybe the possibility of having a whole lot more than just affection between them wasn't as remote as she thought. Just then Ben pulled back from her suddenly. Their first kiss. How...disappointingly brief, with a hint of possible sparks she'd had no time to enjoy. Hadn't he felt it? Obviously not.
Her grandmother and Rose clapped, gathering around her and Ben to gush with congratulations. Mrs. Holdo went over to Ben to offer congratulations. Rey swallowed. What had she expected? Ben would magically transform from a venture capitalist into Prince Charming? She should be happy they'd have a fulfilling partnership. She should not be thinking about how Ben might kiss her if they'd met under different circumstances. If they were getting married because they'd fallen in love, and during the ceremony he'd slid her a sizzling glance that said he couldn't wait for the honeymoon. She shouldn't be dwelling on it, but the thought wouldn't fade, what would his calm dark eyes look like when they were hot with passion?
She sighed as she might never find out.....