Home > Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)

Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)
Author: Catherine Bybee

Chapter One

Divorce cake was so much sweeter than wedding cake, and when that cake was served to a room full of women celebrating the freedom of a newly single, incredibly wealthy thirty-year-old, it tasted even better.

Lori lifted her tumbler in the air and caught the gaze of Samantha Harrison from across the room.

Another successful Alliance contract executed.

Another payday for the both of them.

Avery Grant, the divorcée of the hour, laughed over the volume of the music pumping through the expansive speaker system in the high-rise condominium. The unit sat several floors above Lori’s in the same Los Angeles complex.

The lofty space had been stripped of most of its walls before Avery moved in. She wanted it open, with massive views of the city twinkling below after sunset. Her husband of sixteen months liked his living space to resemble a Civil War–era colonial home, complete with cubicle-style rooms and drafty halls. It wasn’t surprising to see Avery make a completely opposite choice for her home.

“You’re Avery’s attorney, aren’t you?”

The voice on Lori’s right belonged to Avery’s mom, Adeline.

Lori extended her hand. “I am. It’s Mrs. Grant, right?”

“Did Avery speak of me?”

No, but Lori had sat on the sidelines of Avery and Bernie’s wedding nearly a year and a half before. She hadn’t stayed for the reception. A divorce attorney at a wedding sometimes created gossip, something Lori and Sam’s team avoided like socks on newly polished toes.

“Avery showed me pictures from the wedding,” Lori lied.

Mrs. Grant lifted her nose a little higher. “Disgraceful. Who shows a divorce lawyer pictures of what failed?”

They both glanced at Avery, who was working her way into a wicked hangover.

“Their split was amicable.” A direct quote from the tabloid that blasted the finality of the divorce earlier that week.

“Amicable or not, it shouldn’t have happened. Avery always was impulsive, making the wrong choices. Bernie was perfect for her, grounded, good family.”

Rich!

“He was a bit older than your daughter.” Eighteen years, to be exact. Not to mention the male-pattern baldness and five foot ten height. When Avery appeared at his side in anything but flats, she towered over him. Not that Bernie had minded. He had wanted a trophy wife, and with Avery, he’d gotten what he ordered.

Laughter caught their attention again.

“This is disgraceful. Who has a divorce party?”

In Lori’s line of work, lots of women.

“If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. Grant, I see someone I need to speak with.”

The older woman pinched her lips a little tighter and pivoted toward the kitchen.

Lori worked her way to Sam’s side and lifted her cocktail. “Cheers.”

“Looked like Mom wasn’t happy.”

“Not at all.” Lori lowered her voice. “If I remember right, Avery wanted a reprieve from her parents nagging her to settle down.” Her brief marriage and subsequent divorce had given her that.

“I wonder how long Mom will wait before going at her again?”

“Anyone’s guess.”

“Well.” Sam placed her half-empty glass on a nearby table. “At least Avery has the financial freedom to avoid her overcontrolling parents.”

“I’ve never seen domineering parents loosen their grip on their children.”

“Perhaps Avery will pry their fingers off.”

A fast-paced song had the woman of the hour bouncing to the beat. “She is certainly breaking loose tonight.”

“What is she drinking?”

“It’s called a ball and chain, otherwise known as Fireball and tequila shots.”

“That’s gonna hurt in the morning.”

A chattering of women increased in volume and brought both their attention to the front door. A tall, muscle-bound twentysomething walked in wearing the fakest cop’s uniform Lori had ever seen.

Sam shook her head. “When the stripper arrives, that’s my cue to leave.”

Lori waved her off. “Go home to your hot man. I’ll stick around and make sure our client doesn’t do anything tabloid perfect.”

Sam kissed the side of Lori’s cheek before skirting around the crowd.

Someone handed Lori a plate full of cream cheese frosting smothered cake.

Strippers and sugar.

It could be worse.

The sound of glass crashing to the floor brought Lori’s eyes wide open.

In front of her, the world shimmered into focus.

Bright light glared.

Avery’s condo . . . commando stripper . . . it all came back in a breath.

Fuzzy pain sat in the back of her neck and threatened serious pain if she didn’t change position.

She shifted and closed her eyes.

The guttural sound of someone attempting to empty their stomach shot her into action.

Lori zeroed in on the noise.

Avery, God love her, had made it halfway to the stone and lacquer bathroom before losing the previous evening’s indulgence.

Choking back the involuntary desire to follow Avery’s stomach, Lori swallowed hard, moved past the mess, and grasped the girl’s hair as she found the toilet.

“Oh, God.”

Lori wasn’t sure who was praying to the porcelain throne, Avery or her . . . but one of them was exclaiming something.

“I got ya,” Lori said as she closed her eyes and thought of rainbows and unicorns.

Avery emptied her stomach, the hard way, into the pristine white Kohler toilet.

Just when Lori thought the worst was over, it wasn’t.

“Oh, damn.”

Lori sucked air in through her mouth.

Only when the sound of the toilet flushing hit her ears did Lori open her eyes. “You good?”

Avery heaved.

Nope.

Two minutes later . . .

For every day she sat at her desk charging five hundred dollars an hour for her efforts, this wasn’t one of them.

Nurses, Lori decided then and there, deserved a half-off deal when they showed up looking for representation.

“One too many tequila shots.”

Avery’s comment had Lori grinning. “Or five.”

Avery leaned against the tub, head in her hands. “You said my divorce wasn’t going to be painful.”

Laughing, Lori said, “Your divorce was final before Patrón and Detective Dan.”

Avery opened one eye. “Was that his name?”

“I never got his name.”

“He was firm.”

Lori grinned, thinking of the fake stripper cop. “Everywhere.”

They both laughed.

“Stop, it hurts.”

“C’mon.” Lori helped Avery to her feet and down the hall.

“I need to clean that.” Avery turned her head away from her own mess.

“I got ya.” Or she’d call someone from an emergency maid service with combat pay who would get it.

After placing Avery on her sofa, Lori turned to the open kitchen. “Coffee.”

Avery moaned.

“For me. You get crackers and ice chips until noon.”

A fancy single serving coffee dispenser was a divorce gift from one of Avery’s friends. Lori had cracked it open after midnight in an effort to sober up a few guests before they left.

Most of them went by way of overtipped Uber drivers.

“That party was epic.”

Lori felt five years past the epic days of her life. “It was memorable.”

A coffee cup made it under the stream of hot cappuccino. Just the smell helped her headache.

“I’m really divorced?” Avery asked on a sigh.

“Yep.”

“And my bank account has five million dollars in it?”

“Yep.”

Avery’s laugh started low and built. Lori smiled as she lifted the coffee cup for her first taste.

“Bernie’s a nice man, he just needs . . .”

“Someone closer to his age?”

“Yeah.”

Lori avoided conversations with her clients during their marriages unless something legal came up. And since most of the time she represented both parties in these “arranged marriages,” from prenup to divorce, it was best to stand clear.

Alliance, a successful marriage-for-hire service for the rich and famous who needed a spouse quickly and quietly, was Sam’s brainchild. The marriages were designed to be temporary, twelve to twenty-four months, including a six-month uncontested divorce grace period. Sam often fostered the relationship with the payees, mainly women, where Lori dealt with the payers, often men. Lori wasn’t an employee of Alliance per se, but she did financially benefit from every prenuptial agreement she wrote up, and again when the couple split.

Once the divorces were final, Lori often took on the role of transitioning the divorcées from “married to a rich man” to “cast-off wife.” And yes, Sam paid her for that service as well.

Even though her role with Alliance went beyond the professional scope of a divorce attorney, she didn’t mind. Her involvement kept her clients out of the papers and on the path to the happiness they sought when they entered into their counterfeit marriages.

The irony lay in how many times Alliance marriages actually worked out. Between Sam’s vetting of the couples involved, the extensive background checks, and the overall matching process, it wasn’t uncommon for the couples to have a physical attraction that sometimes grew deep roots filled with I love you and forever. Considering the divorce rate was 50 percent in the normal world of happily ever after, the fact that the fabricated marriages that Samantha Harrison’s company arranged had a 28 percent success rate was astounding.

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