Emma yanked a blouse off a hanger, wadded it into a ball and stuffed it into her suitcase. Then she swept her hand through her underwear drawer, came up with four pairs of panties, then unceremoniously dumped them in on top of the blouse. She stomped over to the pile of clean clothes she’d just removed from the dryer, fished out a couple of bras, and crammed those into the bag as well. Everything would be wrinkled when she got to New York, but what the hell did it matter? It was a radio show anyway.
Most radio shows these days called in their interviews, but radio legend Victoria Belfrey preferred to do hers in person. She liked to tell her listeners how she was sipping tea with various powerful women.
“I know you're angry with me, love, but don’t take it out on your clothing.”
Emma looked up at Killian, a pair of her jeans balled up against her chest, and scowled at him. “Call it cathartic packing.”
She shoved past him to get to a pair of high heeled boots that were tossed in the corner. Behind her, she heard Killian give a long-suffering sigh.
“Please let me go with you?”
Emma refused to look at him as she shoved the jeans into the bag, then zipped it shut. “No need. It’s just an overnight trip.”
“Yet another convenient way to avoid me.”
His jaw was clenched, and he stood in the doorway, legs spread, fists tight at his sides. They’d just had yet another fight. This was their new normal; avoid one another until it was no longer possible in the tiny house, then get into a rip-roaring fight over something ridiculous. This time it was back to her habit of leaving dirty knives next to the sink. Killian was back to sleeping on the couch, and Emma was back to running on the treadmill.
“I’m not avoiding you,” she lied.
He gave a sardonic laugh. “And we’re also just fighting about messy kitchen habits.”
“No seriously, Emma, we need to talk. Really talk.”
“No we don’t!” she spread her arms wide. “Because none of this is real! We agreed to cohabitate for six months to a year, that’s it, so let’s just get through it, okay?”
“But we -”
“Stop right there.”
Killian closed his mouth and his entire body deflated. “As you wish.”
The next sound Emma heard was the door slamming shut. She sank to the edge of the bed and put her head in her hands. Weariness spread through her body, but she forced herself to get up and finish packing. She had just wheeled her small suitcase out of the bedroom when she heard a knock at the back door. That meant it could only be Elsa or Liam. Emma’s head dropped back as she let out an exasperated sigh.
“Come in!” she called out.
The door opened, and Elsa stepped hesitantly over the threshold. “You sure you want me to? That didn’t sound very welcoming.”
Emma dropped to the couch. “I’m sorry. I’m just . . . stressed.”
Elsa gave her a pointed look as she sat in the chair across from her. “Stressed. You mean because you married Killian at the last minute when your groom didn’t show?”
Emma felt the blood drain from her face as her mouth hung open and her eyes blinked rapidly. Had she just heard Elsa right?
“Wait, uh . . . what?”
“Your marriage of . . . what would you call it? Convenience? Unless it’s a fake marriage.”
“No, no, we’re legally married.” Emma tilted her head, her forehead creased. “Are we seriously having this conversation?”
Elsa laughed. “Oh, it’s real.”
Emma rose from the couch and started to pace back and forth, rubbing her forehead wearily. “Well what the hell are we even trying to do? I mean, have we fooled anyone at all?”
“You fooled Anna. And all of your Instagram followers, apparently. The hostess on that talk show seemed to eat you two up.”
Elsa shook her head. “Suspicious from the start. To be honest, I thought he was overreacting at first, but then . . . “
Emma sank to the couch again, lowered her face to both hands, and groaned. “How did you figure it out?”
“Well, first of all, it didn’t make sense that Killian would have been able to hide a relationship. He kind of wears his heart on his sleeve, you know? Plus, since Milah died, he’s been a man of dull routine. If he’d been seeing you all that time, we would have noticed, since we live right next door. But it was the man who visited you the other day that caused all the pieces to fall into place.”
“Walsh.” Emma swore under her breath.
“I wasn’t trying to invade your privacy,” Elsa clarified, both hands raised. “I was hanging another one of my wreaths, you know since we have that double front door, and I -”
“You saw him.”
“Yeah, I did, and I recognized him. I realized I had seen him with you in town once.”
Emma fell backwards onto the couch and hugged a pillow to her chest. “I am the worst human being in the world. You and Liam must hate me.”
Elsa rose and came to sit next to her. “I don’t hate you.”
Emma looked up at her with arched brows. “I notice you said I , not we, so I’m going to assume that Liam at least hates me.”
“Hate’s such a strong word,” Elsa laughed.
“How are you so calm about this?”
Elsa leaned against the back of the couch, resting her chin in her hand, “You were in a crisis situation, and Killian came to your rescue. Let me guess, you got the news when he was delivering your arbor.”
“Killian can’t resist playing the hero, it’s in his DNA. Besides that, he -” Elsa suddenly found the pattern on the throw pillows fascinating.
Elsa sighed. “Come on, Emma, you know what. He likes to play the hero, yes, but think about it for a second. A man doesn’t jump to marry just anybody.”
“Six months to a year. That’s all we agreed to.”
Elsa leveled her with a look that had her squirming. Emma jumped from the couch and started going through her purse. Emergency cash - check; cell phone - check; quarters for tolls - check, granola bar for when she got hungry - check.
“Emma,” Elsa said softly, coming around the couch to gently touch her elbow, “take it from someone who’s been there. Jones men are in it for the long haul. He won’t abandon you.”
Emma squeezed her eyes shut and clutched the straps of her purse tighter. “You’re talking as if I . . . I . . . “
Emma’s eyes snapped open at Elsa’s words. Her lips tightened into a thin line. She slung her purse over her shoulder, then yanked her suitcase across the floor towards the front door.
“I have someplace to be,” she muttered, not caring about how rude she was, “you know how to lock up.”
For the first time since he first met Emma, Killian cranked up the music in his workshop as loud as it would go. AC/DC thrummed from his bluetooth speakers louder than was necessary, even for him. He would probably have a headache later. He knew it was immature and downright stupid. Emma wasn’t even coming into the office today. She was probably already halfway to New York by now.
Killian was using the electric sander when suddenly the workshop was plunged into absolute silence and the sander went still in his hand. He swore loudly, assuming it was a power outage, but when he turned around, Liam was standing there with cords dangling from his fists.
“What the bloody hell!”
Liam scowled at him as he tossed the cords on a nearby work table. “I’ve been shouting at you for five minutes.”
“I doubt it was five,” Killian muttered as he removed his safety glasses and yanked off his work gloves.
“I brought you lunch,” Liam told him, jerking his head back towards the front of the store.
“Not hungry,” Killian told him flatly as he untangled the sander’s cord from the bluetooth cords.
“Listen, I don’t know what happened between you and Emma, but you’re both acting like you’re pissed at the universe. So one way or another, you’re gonna talk to me about it.”
Killian’s brow furrowed. “How do you know how Emma’s feeling?”
“Elsa went by to talk to her.”
“I’m sure she regrets testing the wrath of Emma Swan.”
Knowing his brother wouldn’t back down, Killian stomped out to the store front and flipped the “open” sign to “closed.” He grabbed the two take out bags from Granny’s and sat down with them at a table in the corner. Liam joined him wordlessly. For a while, they ate in silence, but once Liam had polished off his club sandwich, he crumpled the wrapper, tossed it into one of the bags, and leaned back with his arms crossed.
“Now that your blood sugar is at an acceptable level, do you mind telling me the damn truth? And start from the beginning, little brother.”
Killian sighed and ran his hand wearily over his face. “When did you figure it out?”
“I didn’t. Elsa did. Though I knew something was off from the beginning.”
Between french fries, Killian told Liam the whole story, starting from the wedding day when Emma came by his shop to check on the arbor. He finished by explaining (in only the vaguest terms) how their relationship became physical, what he’d told Emma, and the way she had been pushing him away ever since.
“Falling in love wasn’t part of our agreement, and it was stupid of me to let it happen.”
Liam gave him a scrutinizing look that was downright uncomfortable, then shook his head. “I asked you to start from the beginning.”
“I did! It all started when Walsh -”
“No,” Liam cut him off, “start with when you first started falling in love with her.”
Killian dropped his face to his hands with a groan. “I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot. A hopeless romantic, yes, but not an idiot.”
“You would never do something like this.”
Liam chuckled. “The boring, straight-laced, big brother thing, huh?” He leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees. “That may be so, but you’d be surprised what I’d be willing to do for Elsa. Love makes us do crazy things. The question is, are you ready to give up yet?”
Killian clenched his jaw. “No way.”
“Then keep being there for her. You’ve still got at least . . . three months? Three months of this marriage of convenience to win her heart.”
“Only if she wants me. I won’t use any manipulation or trickery.”
“I would expect nothing less of you.”
“So your brother and Elsa figured it out?”
Mary Margaret paused with tongs poised over the caesar salad she was tossing. She
and David had invited him over for dinner while Emma was gone. They were planning on listening to Emma’s radio show together too.
“Yes,” Killian replied as he sliced a loaf of garlic bread.
“So what’s the point anymore?” David asked from the kitchen table where he was buckling Leo into his booster seat.
“David,” Mary Margaret admonished as she brought in the salad and set it on the table, “they did this for Emma’s career, remember? All of her Instagram and YouTube followers, the media - they all believe she’s married.”
“Besides,” Killian added as he sat down with the bread, “no one else knows but them and the two of you. Even Anna and Kristoff don’t know. I’m frankly relieved my brother knows. Lying to him wasn’t easy.”
“I can imagine,” Mary Margaret told him sympathetically. She reached across the table to squeeze his hand.
“And Walsh knows, don’t forget that,” David added. Mary Margaret scowled at her husband, and Killian laughed when David suddenly yelped. “Ow, what was that for?”
“You two are the farthest thing from subtle,” Killian chuckled. “In all seriousness, though, I’d rather not talk about Walsh right now, so can we just eat?”
His friends did as he asked, and they busied themselves by passing around the food. As they ate, talk turned to more benign things like Leo’s latest exploits, the adorableness of Killian’s “nephew,” and the colt that Elsa had helped deliver at the stables. Leo also added to the distraction by making an absolute mess of himself. David shook his head and sighed as he lifted the boy out of his seat and headed for the bathroom.
“I guess lasagna isn’t the best idea for a two year old,” Mary Margaret chuckled as she wiped down the tray that clipped onto Leo’s booster seat.
Killian grabbed a roll of paper towels so he could help get blobs of tomato sauce and cheese off the floor. Down the hall, they heard the water running, then David shout.
“No, don’t wipe your hands on the wall!”
Killian and Mary Margaret dissolved into laughter again.
“I’m sorry,” Mary Margaret groaned, “this isn’t exactly the nicest dining experience.”
“Well, it is entertaining.” Killian rose and tossed the messy paper towels into the trash can. Then he looked at his friend and told her sincerely, “I don’t mind Leo, honestly. I love being with your family. You know that, right?”
Mary Margaret’s eyes welled up, and she started to fan her face with her hand. “Now don’t do that, Killian, you know I’m a sap!”
She crossed the room and enveloped him in a tight hug. At the same moment, David came out of the bathroom with Leo wrapped up in a towel.
“You're not making a move on my wife, are you Jones?” he teased.
“How can I when you won’t give us any privacy?” Killian quipped.
“You two,” Mary Margaret laughed. Leo squealed when he saw his mother and reached out his pudgy hands for her. “Let me get this little guy in his pjs while you big guys set up the computer.”
By the time Mary Margaret got Leo down for bed, the men had The Victoria Belfry Radio Show pulled up online and had the bluetooth speakers set up. Mary Margaret collapsed wearily onto the couch next to David.
“Did he demand you sing three different songs and read an entire stack of books before he could go to sleep?”
Mary Margaret wearily rubbed her forehead. “Close. Have I missed anything?”
Killian shook his head. “No. Belfry’s just doing the intro right now.”
“And now, ladies,” Belfry’s elegant voice cooed over the radio waves, “ let’s talk to the woman herself Ms. Emma Swan, relationship expert. Welcome, Emma.”
“Thank you for having me, Victoria.”
“It’s my pleasure. I wish all of you at home could join us here on my veranda for tea. I have had so many powerful, intelligent women join me here -”
“I wonder if they really have tea,” Mary Margaret mused, “and she always sounds kind of snobby to me. Going on about how many powerful intelligent women come to her veranda .”
David chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to ask Emma when she gets back.”
Belfry chatted with Emma then about her newest book, her philosophies on healthy relationships, and what her top advice would be for single women. Unlike most interviews, Belfry didn’t ask about Emma’s marriage, for which Killian was relieved. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but he got the impression from listening to her that Belfry didn’t like men very much. Scratch that, she sounded like she thought men were scum.
“Am I the only one thinking this woman hates the entire male species with a passion?” David asked.
“I was thinking the exact same thing,” Killian laughed.
“Well you are annoying sometimes,” Mary Margaret deadpanned.
Her husband tickled her, pulled her onto his lap, then kissed her nose. Mary Margaret’s smile was practically blinding as she reached up and cupped David’s face in her hands.
“But I guess I’ll keep you around.”
As they kissed, Killian looked away, his heart sinking. It reminded him of everything he wanted with Emma and how badly things had been between them when she left.
“Emma, your advice is so empowering and encouraging for single women.”
“Thank you, Victoria.”
“After this commercial break, we’ll take calls from our listeners, so stay tuned!”
Killian sagged against the couch, unaware how tense his shoulders had been. Emma just had to get through the call-in portion of the show without letting it slip that they weren’t speaking right now, and they were home free.
“She’s doing great,” Mary Margaret assured him.
“Of course she is,” Killian replied, “she always does. I just don’t want her to be put in an awkward position just because we’re fighting right now.”
He almost said he didn’t want her to have to lie, but they’d been doing nothing but lie since June.
After a couple of commercials, Belfry was back. She welcomed the first caller, who tearfully asked how to get her cheating boyfriend back, and Killian felt guilty when he was relieved. Emma handled the call with grace, encouraging the young woman to cut all ties with the cheater and move on. The second call was from a newlywed who felt like her husband didn’t talk to her as much as he had when they were dating. Again, Emma amazed him with her brilliant answer, and he felt himself relax a little.
“We have time for one more call,” said Belfry, “caller number three, you’re on the air.”
“Yes, I’m calling with a question for Emma Swan.”
“Okay, what’s your question?”
Killian could tell from the sound of Emma’s voice that she was feeling at ease, even invigorated. He knew how much she enjoyed helping women avoid or get out of unhealthy relationships. She really, truly, wanted women to know that they were never nothing, that they were enough and never too much. He found himself smiling because he was just so bloody proud of her.
“Emma, I want to know how much you paid Killian Jones to marry you.”
It felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room. Killian lifted his stricken face to Davd’s and Mary Margaret’s. They looked just as horrified as he felt.
“I’m . . . I’m sorry,” Emma stammered. “I have no idea why you would ask me something like that.”
“My name is Zelena West, and I know for a fact that Killian Jones was never your fiance.”
Zelena West? Zelena! Killian groaned. Shit, this was bad.
“Victoria,” Emma said in a strained voice, “I think we should end this call. I have no wish to speak to this woman.”
“Why won’t you answer her question, Emma?” Belfry asked cooly, with the tiniest hint of glee in her voice.
Killian’s jaw clenched at the oily sound of it. The woman was clearly loving the juicy information she was getting live on her show.
“Ms. Swan was engaged to Walsh Barnum, NOT Killian Jones,” Zelena continued, “and I know this because I was with Mr. Barnum when he called Emma Swan and told her he wouldn’t be marrying here. It was the morning of their wedding, so I ask you again Ms. Swan: how much are you paying Killian Jones?”
Killian swore at the exact same moment Emma did.