One Day Fiance by Lauren Landish




Prologue





Connor





Ten Years Ago





The vaulted marble ceilings aren’t soundproofed. I know that personally because I dropped a pen in here and it sounded like a pistol shot that had everyone looking at me.

That’s what makes this room at the Metro Museum of Fine Art difficult—how damned quiet everyone is. I’m the youngest patron in here . . . well, if you don’t count the two boys who are with a woman who’s definitely their mom in the middle of a school day.

Honestly, the two blond boys look like they’d rather be anywhere else right now. Shoveling up dog poop in the back yard might be preferable. Even shoveling up the neighbor’s dog’s poop.

But Mom is a trooper. Despite looking like she’s about to scream in frustration from talking to the two breathing brick walls that are her children, she’s continuing to soldier on.

“And this one is of Robert I, King of Scotland,” Mom drones, reading the placard. “He was famous for . . . Timmy!”

“What?” Timmy, who’s looking at his phone, asks. Mom can’t see it from here, but I can just make out the picture on his screen. He might be studying something, but it sure as hell isn’t art except in the eyes of a plastic surgeon. Obviously, puberty is trembling in his loins. “Come on, Mom, can’t we just go? Seriously, I’ll Google what I need to get the assignment done!”

“Yeah, Mom,” the younger one, who’s too young to worry about his brother’s interest in girls but obviously finds art intolerable, whines. “You promised us McDonald’s if we came for two hours, and that was like, five whole hours ago!”

Well, that’s pretty much impossible unless they arrived at eight in the morning, which I seriously doubt. But I can see Mom’s about to give in, and for some reason, I decide to intervene. Sliding over, I lean against the brass railing that keeps patrons from touching the displays and clear my throat. “Your mom’s right, you know. This is fascinating stuff.”

The kids look at me like I’ve lost my mind, and I can see Mom giving me a wary eye too. I’m being helpful, but I’m also a stranger. Her mama bear instincts are tingling.

But she’s got nothing to worry about from me. “I’m serious. I mean, look at this guy here, Robert I. Or as most people call him, Robert the Bruce. Forget Braveheart, this guy was a bada—” I catch myself. “A leader and warrior. Now I don’t know about you, but I think sword fights, winning against overwhelming odds, and literally becoming king of all you survey and all that is pretty cool.”

“Really?” Timmy asks, lowering his phone a little more, and I nod.

“There’s a famous story about him. After struggling for over a decade for his crown and Scottish independence, he had a chance at the Battle of Bannockburn to finally push back the English threat. Even though he was outnumbered, he led his army into battle. During the fight, he found himself alone, his armor ripped up, his shield gone. His forces were on the edge of fleeing. All he had was his battleaxe. Suddenly, a mounted English knight in full armor charged at him, lance pointed right at his heart. Now imagine, you’re standing, exhausted, muscles weak because you’ve been fighting your butt off, and the medieval equivalent of Iron Man on a tank comes charging at you.”

“I’d probably crap my pants,” the little one says, and I laugh.

“Me too. But Robert stood his ground, dodged, and took the English knight down. That’s what this picture here is showing. The sight was so dramatic that his forces rallied, pushing the English back and winning the battle.”

The boys are entranced, and Mom silently mouths ‘thank you’ to me. I give her a nod, but for the boys, I shrug. “Now, I know that’s not as cool as Naruto, maybe, but in some ways, I think it’s cooler. Because this guy was real.”

I walk away, and a moment later, Mom catches up with me. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I whisper, glancing back at the boys who are eagerly reading about the next picture. “You might let Timmy use his phone to find interesting info and have him share it with you and his brother instead of the other way around. It’ll keep his fingers and mind busy and save you from exhaustion.”

Mom looks like she might swoon and ask me for a ‘personal tour’, but I’m not here to entice a married woman. My target is the woman in the corner of the room who’s watching all of this while keeping a watchful eye on the patrons and the art.