“Your private jet is fueled up and ready to go by five in the morning. The pilot will be expecting you, and the second we land in Vienna, there’s a car I’ll have waiting for us. We’ll check in at our hotel, catch a bit of sleep, then prepare for our meeting with Cristoff Bauer that evening,” Justin said.
“You have a penthouse suite booked, correct?” I asked.
“And the car has tinted windows?”
“And you’ll be driving. Not someone else?”
“I’d never stick you with someone you haven’t vetted yourself. Not since the incident.”
“Good. You’re the only person I remotely trust at the moment. And until we get through this stuff with Mr. Bauer, you’re the only one I trust. We’re there for the week, correct?”
“Yes, sir. One week in Vienna, wining and dining Mr. Bauer until he can’t do anything but say yes. However, there’s one last preparation we need to discuss.”
I shook my head as I swiveled my chair and gazed out the window of my office.
“We’ve been over this,” I said. “I don’t need a fake fiancée hanging off my arm during this trip.”
“You told me to set this up so that you were in a position to win, no matter what. Cristoff Bauer comes from royalty. That’s how old his money is. And since we’ll be in his territory, we have to abide by his rules and traditions.”
“And tradition states I need a fiancée?”
“Tradition states a man of your wealth and age should already be married with a child, but I’m settling for a fiancée.”
“Phil, Cristoff’s perspective concerning stability and security is paramount. He doesn’t trust a man who doesn’t have a woman at his side.”
“Explain to me again why that is? Without throwing the word ‘tradition’ around.”
“Where Cristoff comes from, if a woman approves of a man, then anyone else can. In his world, women are the strongest vetters of men there are. Cristoff won’t trust or do business with a man without at least a fiancée because, in his eyes, if a man cannot get a woman to trust him, a man isn’t capable of doing anything else. Plus, I’ve done some research into his other partners.”
“Let me guess. They’re family men,” I said.
“All of them. Each with their own wife, children, and sometimes mistress on the side.”
“Nice to know they have a moral code,” I said flatly.
“You have to play the part if you’re going to secure this for our company,” Justin said. “At least until the deal is signed. The fake fiancée will give the perspective that you are stable enough to take this on, and then we can arrange some sort of argument. A dissolution of the engagement. You’ll stand on your own, Cristoff will get a taste of how you stand on your own without a family, and all will be settled.”
I shook my head as I ran my finger across my upper lip. I didn’t like this. I didn’t enjoy playing pretend. Fake wasn’t something I did. Smoke and mirrors were something I avoided wholly. This was the part of my business I detested the most. Schmoozing future clients and partners and having to make all sorts of small talk. I wanted to get down to business. I wanted to strip away all the niceties and lay out the pros and cons of every move we were to make as partners from here until the end. That was how I operated.
But apparently, Cristoff Bauer worked under pomp and circumstance.
“I’m there to make a deal. Not play house,” I said.
“And playing house is one of the ways to seal this deal. If you want to succeed, then we’ll discuss what kind of woman you want hanging off your arm,” Justin said.
I sighed and closed my eyes. I wanted this deal. More than anything. I’d lived it and breathed it for months, and the time had come to meet face-to-face and sign the paperwork. I knew there was a catch the second Cristoff didn’t want to fly to us. He’d been flying into the States from Vienna every chance he got. The tables were turned, and I was being asked to step up to the plate, and I had to admit that Justin had never steered me wrong before.