I swear, if I hear ONE more complaint, I'm going to throw him out the window.

"Hmmm, try the blue ones. Those don't suit her."

Nike had to grit her teeth to prevent herself from spitting out the colorful insults on her tongue. The photographer's assistant handed her a new pair of shoes and she begrudgingly slipped them on.

"Mm, better. And Nike, stop grimacing, there's only so much we can fix when we edit the photographs."

I'll edit your face when we get home!

She tried to smile, but she knew it looked forced.

"Please, Miss Ifriquiya, I can't take the photos like this," the photographer said, holding up his camera pleadingly.

Ugh, no! My name is Nike Remercier, stop calling me that-!

"Forget it, she's in a mood," the young man standing at the edge of the set sighed. "We'll reschedule for tomorrow." He was handsome, with ink black hair and clear blue eyes, and he gave off a responsible air that made him seem like more of an adult than his actual seventeen years warranted. Everyone was always bending over backward to please him, but Nike knew better than to trust the pretty face and honeyed words of Livius Ifriquiya.

"I am not in a mood," she hissed once the photographer was out of reach.

"Could have fooled me," the boy said smoothly, raising an eyebrow. He walked up to her and pointed at her shoes. "By the way, those are three grand. Better take them off before you scuff them. I do your finances and I know you can't afford them."

What I would give to just throw one of these right at his face!

"Did I upset you, dear?" he smirked, knowing the pet name grated on her nerves.

"I'm not your dear!"

"Actually, your family register says you are."

Ugh!

"Come on, hurry up and get dressed, we don't have all day," he said suddenly. "We've got that presentation in half an hour, and we can't afford to miss it."

"Why do I have to come?!"

"Because you're my wife, of course."

"Future wife!" she corrected angrily.

"Same difference," he shrugged. "We live together, you took my name; we're basically husband and wife. The paperwork just hasn't gone through yet because I'm still under eighteen."

"I only took your name and moved in with you to save my parents' company!"

"Sure, but you're still the one who signed the contract, Nike."

Ugh...

"Anyway, the car is waiting for us outside. Make sure you don't ruin your clothes this time; the wife of the company president can't afford to look like she walked out of a bargain bin," he said, waving vaguely at her as he walked away.


Livius was an infamous child prodigy. At the age of eleven, he graduated university with a degree in business, and by the time he was thirteen he was worth several billion dollars in assets. Hard working and with a knack for making decisions that paid off, he came to own shares in basically every industry in the book and was running an international conglomerate while other kids his age were still learning how to do trigonometry in high school.

When the Remercier law firm went into decline and had to declare bankruptcy, it was Ifriquiya International that stepped in to buy them out. Instead of kicking Nike's parents to the curb, however, Livius cut them a deal.

"I'll pay all your debt and return this company to your sole ownership, with one condition."

Nike's father, desperate to save the family business, was all too willing to hear the young business tycoon out.

"That's very generous of you, Mr. Ifriquiya!"

"No, generosity is free," Livius had clarified. "I'm proposing a trade."

Mr. and Mrs. Remercier looked at each other quizzically.

"I don't know that we have anything to offer you, sir. We're over our heads in debt..."

"It's nothing too complicated. See, I'm planning to start a shoe company. When I was looking into buying this firm, I happened to come across one of your daughter's names and thought it was a perfect fit for that company."

"Our daughter's..."

"Name?"

All four of the Remercier daughters exchanged bemused glances.

"Yes, I want to use it as the brand name. After meeting her here, I'd also like to ask her to pose as the face of the company. I think she would make a great model."

"Well, that's fine with us, but you should really ask her yourself. All of our daughters are overage, so it's their decision if they want to work with you, Mr. Ifriquiya."

"Of course, but what I have in mind is a little different than a work contract. And perhaps I'm a bit old fashioned, but I thought asking her parents first would be the appropriate move in this situation," he said, looking more than a little amused.

"I don't underst-"

"Should I be clearer? In that case, I'm proposing that in exchange for saving your company, your daughter comes to work for me... and agrees to marry me."

Nobody said a word.

"Surely you're joking-"

"Not at all, I'm dead serious," Livius said, pulling a file from his briefcase. "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but I pride myself on having a good eye for people and an even better instinct for business sense. I can tell that your daughter is going to be a huge asset to my company. A lucky charm, of sorts, especially with that name," he elaborated, pulling on a pair of reading glasses.

Nike felt her stomach drop as he spoke. Only one of us has a name like that, and it's definitely not Nia...

"Here are the terms, Mr. Remercier," he added, passing a set of documents across the table. Nike's father didn't bother to look at them.

"If you really think we'll sell one of our daughters out for the sake of this company, you have another thing coming, young man!" he shouted, slamming his hands down on the table.

Father...! Oh thank God, I'm saved.

"I'll throw in a summer house in Hawaii."

"That is, of course, if you don't take good care of her, Mr. Ifriquiya," Mr. Remercier quickly amended.

FATHER!

"In that case, please sign here," Livius said, passing her father a pen. "And, Miss Nike-" (I knew it! DAMMIT!) "I'll need you to agree as well, since you're over eighteen."

"I refuse! I don't even know you!" she shouted, pushing herself up angrily.

Livius shrugged. "Well if you really don't want to..." He made to pull the document back but Nike's father was gripping it tightly on the other end.

"She just needs some time to think about it, right, Nike?!"

She couldn't believe it.

"What the hell?! You're really going to sell me out?!"

"Think of it as a mutually beneficial engagement," Livius said resting his cheek on his hand casually. "Your family keeps its business, and you help me build up mine."

"I don't want to help you! You're just... just a selfish brat!"

"Nike!" her mother hissed.

"It's true! He thinks people are just objects to be bought! Well, I'm not for sale!"

She stormed out on them.


That was what she had said, but in the end, even she had to cave. The fact was that her family was in dire straights, and if they didn't find a source of income quickly, Nike and her sister Kara would be forced to drop out of college. Both of them were already working several jobs in addition to their studies, and the two eldest girls were both lawyers, now out of a job. Without the firm, the whole family was at risk of being kicked out of their already modest house and after being begged and pleaded to and pestered for two whole weeks, Nike finally gave in.

One phone call later and Nike was given several forms to fill out. The first was the contract, and the second was an application to change her name.

"You want me to change my name?!" she asked, outraged. Livius merely shrugged.

"You'll be changing it sooner or later, so we might as well do it now. It's easier to sell you to the media with my name, since it's already famous. Besides, call me superstitious, but your last name seems to be bad luck."

"What are you talking abou-"

He pointed at her hand, which was holding the pen she had used to sign the contract.

"That, I'm talking about that. Your family is so indebted that they're actually interested in selling you off. And you're so desperate that you're agreeing. Sounds like terrible luck to me."

"So what, becoming Nike Ifriquiya is supposed to be better luck than being Nike Remercier?!"

"Well, your first name is already pretty lucky. A goddess of victory? That's exactly what I'm looking for in a wife, you know? But if you're an Ifriquiya, then you're also a rich goddess of victory, with all the opportunities of the world at your fingertips."

"I don't care about that!"

"I'm paying for your university fees for the next two years."

"Where do I sign again?"


Just like that, Nike's life made a turn for the bizarre. It was like she'd been transported to one of those bad movies where a poor young girl suddenly becomes a princess and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except Nike was not happy. In her mind, Livius was the devil incarnate. A well dressed, disgustingly rich, handsome devil, but the devil nonetheless. He was always manipulating people to his advantage and throwing money at his problems. He seemed to get off on teasing her and pissing her off, and their cohabitation was an endless shouting match. If they didn't live in a penthouse with soundproofed walls, Nike was sure they would have been arrested for disturbing the neighbors.

As it was, they never seemed to stop getting on each other's nerves. Livius was a clean-freak, an organizational mastermind, while Nike was a bit of a slob. She walked around in pajamas on her days off, never wore shoes in the house (an especially sore point for Livius, who insisted that as the namesake for a shoe company she could at least pretend to care about her feet), and left clothes, books, and all sorts of things lying around. He got angry at her messes and cleaned up after her in a furious tirade, while having him touch her things (especially in her own room) was tantamount to sacrilege in her book.

What Nike hated the most, however, wasn't how much he got on her nerves. It was that despite that, and despite the fact that he essentially bought her, she couldn't help admiring him. She secretly thought that he was impressive, running not just one but several businesses, and she respected his work ethic. He worked late nights and was often found in his office in the middle of the night, still going over budgets and plans and contracts. Even then, he never looked anything but his best, and he was of the opinion that in his line of work, appearances were everything.

She resented him slightly for that; Livius pushed that standard on her too, which meant she had to dress to match him whenever they were out in public. She was a relatively simple person, and she couldn't get used to the expensive, brand name clothing, or that she had to wear only shoes from their own brand as part of a marketing ploy. But worse than that was that next to Livius, she felt rather plain.

Even Nike, through her dislike, could tell that her fiance was attractive. Perhaps too much so. He was tall, about her height, and it didn't help that he had the money to follow a very precise grooming routine. There was never a hair out of place with him, and even without his stylish clothes he had a certain grace and charisma about him that drew people to him. He had a distinct, rather feminine face with full, sensual lips and a certain inviting glint in his angled eyes. He managed to look both dainty and (loathe though she was to admit it) seductive without trying very hard.

Compared to that, Nike was just a regular girl. She could admit that she was perhaps a little bit prettier than most and that her height was one of her few assets, but she lacked that grace or sensuality that Livius so effortlessly gave off. It was frustrating.


"Nike, you're a terrible artist."

Nike looked up from her textbook on the living room floor to see Livius standing over her with her sketchpad open to one of her more recent doodles.

"Why are you looking through my stuff?! AGAIN?!"

"I wasn't looking, I was cleaning. Your room is disgusting. And besides, if you're going to draw a guillotine with my head on it, I'd at least like it if you made me look like a human being instead of a hairy potato."

"Give me that!" She snatched it out of his hands.

"Not one of your best works there. Personally, I prefer the one where I'm strangled by a shoelace." He threw himself on the sofa, arms behind his head. "It has a nice sense of irony to it."

"Shut up, go away. I'm trying to study."

"This is my house, I can sit here if I want."

"Well I live here, so it's my house too."

"Sure... if you paid rent."

"I KEEP YOUR DAMN COMPANY ALIVE."

"Correction, you keep my company looking chic, though you really should try to incorporate some of that into your everyday life," he said, giving her old t-shirt and shorts a pointed look.

"Why do I have to be all dressed up when I'm just at home studying?!"

"It's good to dress for success, and all that."

She threw a highlighter at him.

"Watch it! You didn't even put the cap on! You almost ruined my shirt!"

"I wish it had. A nice, pink stain on your fancy-ass shirt would have made my day."

"You little-!"

"Who are you calling little, you brat?!"

"Who are you calling a brat, you slob?!"

"You better hope I don't get my hands on a shoelace, you little shit!" she grabbed him by the ankle and gave him a vicious tug, pulling him off the sofa in a crumpled heap.

"What the hell is your problem, you crazy woman?!"

The argument quickly escalated into a full-out brawl. Ten minutes and several scratches later, she won.

"Ha! Who's the loser now?!" she cried triumphantly, pinning him under her body by the wrists. It took her a second to realize what a suggestive position they were in, his knee only just jutting between her legs and his arms held above his head so that his shirt was pulled up just enough to see a sliver of skin on his stomach.

W...wait, this looks like...!

It had obviously occurred to him too.

"Huh, this isn't so bad. I might like being on the bottom after all," he said, his initial shock giving way to a lewd grin.

"P-pervert!" She pulled off him immediately, her face flushing. Why did I...?!

"You're the one who pushed me down. And since when is flirting with your wife perverted?" he sniffed, sitting up and dusting off his sleeves.

"Future wife!"

"Whatever."

"Damn, and I was supposed to be studying," she muttered to herself, trying to take her mind off the image of him lying beneath her. It was harder than she thought.

Who knew he could look so vulnerable? It had been almost endearing, seeing him look so confused and breathless and-

It... it was just because we were fighting, that's all!

She nervously tucked a strand of her flyaway hair behind her ear as she started picking up her pens.

"Hey, Nike."

"What?" she asked irritably.

"For some reason, this look suits you."

"Is this some kind of reverse-psychological insult?" She knew she looked a mess, especially after rolling around on the ground. Her hair was all tangled and frazzled and her face was covered in scratches that she was going to have to cover up with concealer for work.

"No, you look really good."

She looked at him suspiciously. "What do you want?"

"Nothing, just stating a fact," he shrugged, pulling himself up from the ground. "It's sexy, seeing you all disheveled like that. Next time, wear something more revealing, yeah?" He flashed her that same suggestive smile before leaving the room.

What...? WHAT THE HELL?!


Nike couldn't look Livius in the eye at all for the next two days. It wasn't like she wasn't used to him teasing her or making inappropriate comments, but now she couldn't get that smug, lascivious grin out of her head.

That wasn't all, either. She kept thinking back to the moment where their eyes had met, right after pinning him down. She vaguely remembered him shifting beneath her, his knee brushing against the inside of her thigh as he tried to get free. They had both been breathing heavily after the fight, and they had every reason to look flushed, but now in retrospect it felt... indecent.

Stop thinking about it, it was just some dumb roughhousing, it's not like you were trying to jump him or anything!

...

Right?

Nope, absolutely not. Livius is the devil. The DEVIL. He is NOT cute, he is NOT attractive, I totally didn't think he was a little sexy, or that it would have been easy to kiss him... I definitely didn't want to run my hands through his soft hair or keep him pinned down and make him-

Holy shit, make him what?! WHAT WAS I GOING TO SAY?!

"Miss Ifriquiya?"

CALM DOWN, NIKE, YOU'RE JUST OVERTHINKING IT BECAUSE HE MADE THAT INAPPROPRIATE COMMENT.

"Miss Ifriquiya? Are you alright?"

Nike suddenly snapped out of her thoughts to find the entire classroom staring at her. The professor had been trying to call her for a while now. She was painfully aware of how hot her face was.

"Y-yes, I'm fine," she whispered, mortified. She wanted to sink into her chair and out of existence.


"Why are you staring at me?" Livius asked, looking concerned.

She immediately averted her eyes. "I'm not staring," she said defensively.

"And I'm not the richest man on this street," he scoffed, flashing the turn signal. He'd come to pick her up from school himself for once; he usually traveled by limo, but sometimes he liked to show off his own expensive cars to prove that he could drive too.

"You're imagining things," she said, pointedly staring out the passenger side window.

"You're joking, your eyes are like search lights. I feel like I'm under surveillance," he complained, tugging at his collar slightly. "Normally I don't mind you taking a good look, but when I'm driving, it makes me nervous."

"I told you, you're imagining it."

He wasn't. Even now, she was surreptitiously observing him in the faint reflection on her tinted window.

He has really long eyelashes... It's unfair, he's beating me at being pretty, and I'm the model!

No, wait... that's not the point! Why can't I stop staring at him, dammit?!

Her stomach squirmed guiltily, but she couldn't tear her eyes away.

What is this devil doing to me?!

"Did you eat lunch already?" he asked, interrupting her thoughts.

"Oh- Not yet."

"Where should we go, then?"

"Huh?"

"We never have time to eat together, so I figured this was a good chance before the shoot later," he shrugged but she thought she saw him blush slightly.

How cu-

NOPE, ABORT, ABORT!

"I don't have any particular desire," she said, then froze.

Did I just say-

NO, NO! GO BACK! REDO!

"PREFERENCE, I MEANT PREFERENCE!" she shouted, panicking.

He stared.

"Are you okay, Nike?" He asked slowly. He was looking at her as though wondering if he should drive her to the hospital instead of to a restaurant.

"Fine, I'm doing just fine!" she said hastily, but her subconscious was busy hitting its head against the wall in mortification.


Lunch was incredibly awkward. Nike couldn't keep eye contact throughout the entire meal or hold a conversation at all, and while their occasional meals together were usually rather forced, this was different.

Still, it wasn't until after lunch that things got really out of hand.

As a change of scenery, Livius parked the car outside the company lot and they decided to walk to work. On the way, he stopped Nike.

"Hold on, let's go in there," he said, pointing out a small ice cream shop nearby.

"Huh?"

"I'm feeling like something sweet," he shrugged. "C'mon, I'll treat you."

"I'm fine..."

"Don't be such a stick in the mud, it's just a bit of ice cream."

"For some reason, those words have no business coming out of your mouth," she said.

"What, just because I'm a billionaire I can't have an ice cream cone?"

"No. Besides, it makes you look like a kid."

"Well I don't care, I have a craving. Last chance to ask me nicely for one."

"I'm good," she declined, not in the mood.

"Suit yourself. I'll be right back then." He gave her a small wave as he entered the store. Nike leaned on the window display to wait.

Somehow, being with him feels more stifling than usual.

She stuck her hands into her pockets, staring down at her shoes. As always, they were from the company, though a bit higher-end than the ones in stores. The company focused on athletic wear, which was why Nike imagined she'd been chosen as model; she probably couldn't pull off stilettos the way she could pull off a comfortable pair of sneakers or boots. She was aware that her image wasn't particularly glamorous, but at least people seemed to think she looked cool in sportswear. At the moment, however, she just felt unsuitable as Livius' fiance.

All I can do is wear shoes and pose in front of a camera. But even then I'm mismatched next to him. N-not that I WANT to be a good match or anything, but it just makes me feel kind of... cheap.

"Back." She looked up to see him holding a cone. He looked utterly ridiculous as he stood there, blissfully enjoying an ice cream while dressed in an expensive suit.

"If the media got a look at you now..." she said as they left the store.

"That's fine, no one expects to see me walking down the street at all. They'll just think I'm a look-alike or something."

"They'll definitely recognize you, if only because I'm walking next to you."

"Hmm, I guess that's true. In that case, help me eat this; no one will think it's strange that we're sharing on a date."

"No way, and we're not on a date."

"I'm pretty sure going out to eat and sharing an ice cream is a date."

"We're NOT sharing."

"C'mon, don't be stubborn." He pushed the cone toward her half-jokingly.

"No!" She said, pushing his hand away. Unfortunately, the motion made him lose his grip and he dropped the cone, getting ice cream all over his hand.

"Ah, crap," he muttered, searching through his pockets for a handkerchief but coming up blank.

"Ack, I'm sorry," she said hastily, reaching for her purse. "I think I have one..."

"Eh, nah, it's fine," he said suddenly, raising his fingers to his mouth and licking the mess off.

Nike literally stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING, DON'T STARE, DON'T STARE!

But she couldn't stop. It was like watching a video in slow motion; those long, thin fingers pressed against his full lips, his tongue deliberately reaching into the hard-to-reach places to clean off the sticky mess... She started wondering what it might feel like if that was her hand he was licking, or what he might taste like if she was the one-

A hot, uncomfortable feeling spread through her body.

I can't believe I just imagined that! That was so... so lewd! What is wrong with me?!

"Nike?"

He had stopped walking once he realized she wasn't keeping pace.

"What's wrong? You're all red," he said, frowning. He retraced his steps back to her and put his hand to her forehead. "You're burning up!"

She hardly noticed what he said because she was too focused on the fact that he'd used the same hand she'd been thinking about to check her temperature.

"You can't go to work like this," he said, pulling out his phone and dialing the photographer. He took her arm as he explained that since she was ill, Miss Ifriquiya would be rescheduling the shoot for another day. "Alright, let's get you home," he said as he hung up.

"We're... going home?"

"Yeah, you've got a fever. I'll pick up some medicine on the way back."


She hardly noticed when they got back to the car or when they got back to the condominiums. Next thing she knew, she was in her own bed, a thermometer stuck under her tongue.

"102 Fahrenheit," Livius said, checking the result. He was sitting on the edge of her bed.

Wait, I'm actually sick?!

He frowned. "If it gets worse, I'll have to get you to the hospital. I'll go get you some water." He closed the door behind him.

How did I not notice I was running a fever?

She knew the answer, of course; she'd been so focused on her own embarrassment that she thought the heat and discomfort was from her shameful thoughts.

Then I can't be a pervert, it was just the fever messing with my head!

It was a flimsy excuse and she knew it. She groaned and pulled the covers over her head.

Who am I kidding?! Sure, maybe the blushing and feeling weird part was the fever, but I was still thinking about him in a... a... NO, I REFUSE, I WON'T ADMIT IT, IT'S A LIE!

She couldn't remember when it had started. When I pinned him down? No, maybe even before that... it wasn't the first time I thought he looked handsome...

Still, that's not the same thing as thinking... Ughhhhhhhhh, why is this happening to me?!

The door opened.

"Here, drink this." She pulled the covers down and sat up to accept the glass.

"I called the housekeeper to come make you something to eat. She'll be here in an hour."

"Okay."

"Oh, and here, take these." He handed over some pills. "These should bring your fever down and let you sleep."

"Thanks."

"Wow, you must be really ill if you're thanking me." He could have been teasing, but Nike thought he looked kind of worried.

He's being uncharacteristically nice... It's a little weird.

"Need anything else?"

"No, I'm okay."

"Alright then." He got up and Nike assumed he was leaving. Instead, he grabbed her tablet and sunk into her reading chair.

"Your password is ridiculously easy to guess."

"Hey, that's mine!"

"I paid for it," he pointed out. "Don't worry, I'm not going to go through your secret diary or anything, I'm just going to sign into the company server and get some work done."

"Then why don't you go do it in your office?!"

"What kind of husband leaves his wife all alone when she's sick? I'm just keeping an eye on you."

"Future wife!"

"Still my wife," he said, lazily swiping through the internet pages.

"Not yet!"

"Soon enough. My birthday is in a couple of months, you know? Just accept it already, Nike."

"Never," she said, but her voice was starting to sound groggy. The medicine was probably starting to kick in.

"Sure, sure. Go to sleep, dear. I'll wake you when the housekeeper gets here."

"I'm... not..." your... dear...

Her eyes fell closed.


She dreamt that he was holding her hand.

He wasn't doing anything inappropriate, but Nike thought her heart might jump out of her throat. Their fingers were interlaced, and his thumb gently caressed the back of her hand. It was warm, and comforting.

This feels nice...

"Nike."

I never realized, but the way he says my name is different from other people. He kind of... savors it, lets the sounds roll off his tongue instead of just biting off the two syllables like everyone else. It's kind of... embarrassing...

"Nike, wake up."

But... it's not my name he's saying. Not really. It's the name of the goddess of victory, the supposedly lucky name. That's the reason he chose me, after all...

The only reason...

"Nike, time to get up."

Why does that make me feel kind of sad? It's not like I wanted to be his stupid fiance in the first place. Good luck my ass. All this name has brought me is misfortune.

But, if I have to be bound to him... I at least wish it was because of something more than just because he happened to like my name...

"Nike, there's food. Wake up."

She stirred and opened her eyes, only to find his face looking down at her, a bit too close for comfort.

"Gyah!" she threw the closest object she had on hand at him. It was her phone.

"Ow! What the hell?!"

"Y-you! Why are you leering over me?!"

"Leering? What are you talking about?! I've been trying to wake you up for the last three minutes!" He rubbed his jaw, red from where the phone had hit.

"Then why were you so close?!"

"I was checking your temperature!"

"O-oh..."

"Way to overreact," he said grumpily. "Anyway, get up, the housekeeper made you soup. It's in the kitchen. I was going to eat with you but now I'm kind of pissed."

He stalked out of the room, muttering to himself.

Crap, I shouldn't have done that. I should apologize... But I'll wait until he calms down a bit.

She pulled off the covers and got out of bed, feeling a bit dizzy. She found her slippers and made her way down the hall to the kitchen.

He's a spoiled brat, but he was still being considerate, in his own way. I went too far. It's not his fault that I'm getting all self-conscious on my own...

She found a small pot of chicken soup on the counter. A small post-it note was on the table, next to a bowl and spoon already set out for her.

"Feel better soon, miss. He doesn't want me to tell you, but Mr. Ifriquiya helped make this for you. Eat it and get better quickly."

Nike read it and groaned.

Great, now I feel worse about having thrown my phone at him.

Still, there was a warm feeling in her chest that had nothing to do with the soup or her fever.


Nike didn't get a chance to apologize. She knocked outside his door for a while but either he was ignoring her or he had left and she hadn't noticed.

Still feeling sick, she ended up sleeping through to the next morning, but since it was the weekend, she slept in a bit longer. By the time she went to look for something to eat, the house was silent, so Livius had probably left the apartment.

It's not like we usually eat together or anything, she reasoned, pouring herself a glass of juice. She sat down at the table, pulling the chair out perhaps a bit more violently than she meant to.

Not like I see him every day either. We might live together, but outside of work we usually do our own things...

Well I guess that's not completely true. She tapped her foot against the chair, lost in thought. He usually says good morning when I get up, now that I think about it. And he goes out of his way to see me at work, even though I could get through a photoshoot fine without him. He always picks me up from school when it's dark...

She had been so busy hating him that she had never really stopped to consider that Livius, underneath his difficult personality, might actually be a good person. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more obvious it seemed.

Other than technically buying me as his fiance, he's never done anything outright terrible. Sure, he pisses me off sometimes, and he likes to tease me, but he helped my family, he's paying off my school fees, and he gave me a nice home where, for the first time in my life, I have my own space. I never lack for anything because he's always giving me gifts, and my work is actually really well paid... And money aside, he took care of me yesterday, and he's never touched me in a way I didn't like... He struck me as the kind of guy who would take advantage of me because I'm being forced to marry him, but actually, he's never so much as kissed me...

She absently ran a finger over her bottom lip.

I wonder... is he's the type to keep his mouth closed or the type to get carried away...? Would he kiss me if I was less hostile toward him...?

Do... do I want him to?

She was about to deny it, but the thought of him holding her close, of him kissing her deeply, pressing his hand into the small of her back, suddenly overwhelmed her.

"Ah, I can't! I can't even pretend anymore!" she cried aloud, burying her head in her arms. "Fine, I admit it, I want to touch him...!"

"Wh-what?"

She looked up so quickly that she almost hurt her neck. He was standing in the doorway, staring at her with an incredulous look on his face.

"Y-y-you!" She stuttered in horror.

Oh my god, he heard... HE HEARD! I THOUGHT HE WAS OUT!

"I-I just came to... to check on you," he said uncertainly. Nike was immediately plunged from embarrassment to unadulterated panic.

He was worrying about me, and I'm sitting here thinking about all sorts of indecent things...! He's going to think I'm a pervert, that I'm shameless!

"I'm not sure I heard-"

"I WASN'T TALKING ABOUT YOU, OKAY?!" she shouted. She immediately regretted it; his expression grew cold.

"Yeah, I know. You hate me, after all."

No, that's not what I wanted to say!

"If you're fine, I'm going back to work," he said tonelessly.

"W-wait!"

Without meaning to, she stood up and lunged for his sleeve. She managed to grab it but then promptly tripped over the table leg, bringing them both crashing down to the kitchen floor.

"Ow!" he cried, rubbing the back of his head. He'd hit it against the table when they fell. "What the hell?!"

"S-sorry," she muttered. She had cushioned most of her fall by falling over Livius, but her knee was hurting quite badly.

"Hmph, whatever. First you're thinking about some other guy and now you're pulling me to the floor? Make up your mind!"

"I didn't pull you on purpose! And I wasn't thinking about some oth-" she suddenly shut her mouth.

"You think I'm stupid, then?" he said, looking petulant. "Since you're obviously not talking about me, then you're having an affair."

"What?!"

"Am I wrong?" he shouted accusingly.

UGH he's acting like a child!

"Yes, you are!" she replied angrily. "Even if I did like someone else, I would never have an affair!"

"So you admit you like someone else?!"

"No! Are you even listening?!"

"Yes I am! And all I heard you say was that you're thinking about getting all intimate with someone who's not your fiance!"

"You... YOU IDIOT," She grabbed a fistful of his shirt. "Would you shut up and listen to me?! I'm not thinking about anybody else, okay?! When would I even have the time?! You're the one I was thinking about!"

She was so angry that she didn't even realize what she said until she saw a heavy blush creep onto his cheeks.

CRAP, CRAP, CRAP! I FUCKED UP, I FUCKED UP SO BADLY!

"NO, I MEAN-"

He kissed her.

It wasn't a gentle kiss. It was hot and insistent, and he almost forced her mouth open with his sheer eagerness. She felt the initial shock wear off and found herself responding despite the heavy embarrassment weighing on her chest.

He's the type to get carried away, she thought vaguely as he pulled her closer.

It was nothing like the first kiss she had always dreamed about. There was no sweetness, no romantic undertones, just pure electricity. It was overbearing and made her head go blank.

She was dizzy and breathless when he finally let her go. Her hands were still clutched around the fabric of his shirt.

I didn't dream that, right?

"W-was that okay?" he asked, and she was surprised to see that he looked just as flustered as she felt and that he was purposefully looking away from her face.

"Huh?"

"You said you wanted to touch me, but I'm not sure..."

Cu-CUTE. WHAT THE HELL?!

"St-stop!" she said suddenly. "I can't take it, it's too much! My heart's going to explode!"

"Stop what?! I'm not doing anything anymore!"

"That face, that expression! It's too cute, stop!"

"What the..."

"Ugh, it's all your fault, you're the one who made me like this!" she wailed, hiding her face in her hands. "You kept teasing me and now I keep thinking about you and imagining stuff, and and..." No, it's not really his fault... I'm the one who's been all worked up about him all on my own. "Now you're going to think I'm a pervert," she said, mortified.

There was a small pause.

"Nike." He gently pried her arms away from her face. He was still flushed, but she thought there was a rather triumphant and naughty gleam in his eye. "Believe me, you're not a pervert."

"What are you talking about?! I keep having all these embarrassing thoughts..."

"So?"

"So, they're indecent!"

"No they're not. They're natural."

"What are you-"

"Well, I guess in an everyday setting they're probably a bit out of place," he amended, looking thoughtful. "But they're perfectly normal when you're in love."

In... WHAT?!

"WAIT JUST A SECOND-!"

"Are you going to deny it?"

"Of course I am!"

"Then you're just lying to yourself," he said, giving her a smug grin. "Or at least, you haven't noticed yet."

"And why the hell are you so confident, thinking you know what I feel?!" she asked hotly.

"That's easy," he said, taking a strand of her hair. "I know because I've always been in love with you." He wrapped it around his palm and kissed it.

Eh?

"W-what are you saying?!"

"Well, it's true that at first I just thought you were pretty. And I really did just like your name. But since we started living together, things just kind of fell in place," he said taking her hand. "So, I can tell, because I know what it feels like. I wasn't sure until just now, but after that kiss, I'm pretty sure you feel the same, Nike."

Me, in love with... SERIOUSLY?!

"Look," she said, feeling a bit bewildered. "I can definitely admit that I... like you, but I don't know if I can call it lo-love."

At least, not yet.

"Then I'll wait until you can," he said, interlacing his fingers with hers. "But, you know, you really should start using my name. It's kind of sad if my future wife won't even call me by name."

"...Wife."

"Huh?"

"Not future wife, just wife." she said, blushing furiously. "It's the same thing, right, L-Livi?" she said, managing a shy smile.

Even his hand grew hot in embarrassment. She held on to it more tightly.

"Y-yeah, you're right."

I like this person. So, it's okay to touch him now, right?

She didn't need to wait for an answer, not even from herself, before she leaned in to kiss him one more time.