Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(3)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(3)
Author: Jennifer Probst

“The whole thing sounds crazy.”

“It is. Uncle Earl believed in family, and before he died he was convinced I’d never settle down. Therefore, he decided a strong push would be for my own good.”

“You don’t believe in marriage?”

He shrugged. “Marriage is unnecessary. The dream of forever is a fairy tale. White knights and monogamy don’t exist.”

She drew back in surprise. “You don’t believe in making a commitment to another person?”

“Commitments are short-lived. Sure, people mean it when they confess love and devotion, but time erodes all the good stuff and leaves the bad. Do you know anyone who is happily married?”

She parted her lips, then lapsed into silence. “Besides my parents? I guess not. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t happy couples.”

“Maybe.” His tone contradicted his partial agreement.

“I guess there are a lot of issues we don’t agree upon,” she said, and shifted in her seat then re-crossed her legs. “We’ll need some time together to see if this thing will work.”

“We have no time. The wedding has to take place by the end of next week. It doesn’t matter if we get along. This is strictly a business arrangement.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I see you’re the same overbearing bully who teased me about my chest size. Some things don’t change.”

He focused his attention on the dip of her dress. “I guess you’re right. Some things remain the same. Others keep expanding.”

Her breath caught at the jab, but she surprised him when she smiled. “And other things remain small.” Her pointed stare settled directly on the bulge in the center of his pants.

Nick almost sputtered in his coffee but managed to set the cup down with calm dignity. A rush of heat punched his gut as he remembered the day in the pool when they were kids.

He had been teasing Alexa mercilessly about the changes in her body when Maggie snuck up behind him and yanked down his swim trunks. Exposed in all senses of the word, he’d stalked away and pretended the whole episode didn’t bother him. But the memory still ranked as his most embarrassing moment.

He motioned to the papers in front of her. “Maggie told me you needed a specific amount of money. I kept the figure open for negotiation.”

An odd expression crossed her face. Her features tightened, then smoothed back out. “Is this the contract?”

He nodded. “I know you’ll need your lawyer to look it over.”

“No need. A friend of mine is a lawyer. I learned enough, since I helped him study for the bar exam. May I see it?”

He slid the papers over the polished wood. She reached in her purse for a pair of small, black reading glasses and pushed them up the bridge of her nose. Minutes passed as she studied the contract. He took the opportunity to study her. His strong attraction irritated him. Alexa wasn’t his type. She was too curvy, too direct, too…real. He liked to know he was safe from any emotional outbursts if something didn’t go her way. Even when Gabby became upset, she always handled herself with restraint. Alexa scared the hell out of him. Something in his gut whispered she wouldn’t be easy to handle. She spoke her opinion and exhibited emotions without thought. Such reactions caused danger and havoc and messiness. The last thing he needed in a marriage.


He trusted her. Those sapphire eyes bespoke a certain determination and fairness. Her promise meant something. After a year, he knew she’d walk away without a glance backward or a desire for more money. The scale tipped in her favor.

One cherry red fingernail tapped the edge of the page in a steady rhythm. She looked up. Nick wondered why her skin took on such a pale tone when she’d seemed so flushed and healthy a moment ago.

“You have a list of requirements?” She said it as if she were accusing him of a capital crime instead of making a list of assets and liabilities.

He cleared his throat. “Just a few qualities I’d like my wife to have.” She opened her mouth to speak but no words emerged. She seemed to struggle to get them free.

“You want a hostess, an orphan, and a robot all rolled into one. Is that fair?”

He took a deep breath. “You’re exaggerating. Just because I’d like to marry someone with grace and business sense, doesn’t mean I’m a monster.”

She gave an unladylike snort. “You want a Stepford wife without the sex. Haven’t you learned anything about women since you were fourteen?”

“I learned plenty. That’s why Uncle Earl had to force me into an institution that favors women in the first place.”

She gasped. “Men get plenty out of marriage!”

“Like what?”

“Steady sex and companionship.”

“After six months the headaches start and you bore each other to tears.”

“Someone to grow old with.”

“Men never want to grow old. That’s why they keep seeking out younger women.”

Her mouth dropped open. She closed it with one quick snap. “Children…a family…someone who will love you in sickness and health.”

“Someone who spends all your money and nags you every night and bitches about cleaning up your mess.”

“You’re sick.”

“You’re deluded.”

She shook her head, causing her silky black curls to lift around her face, then slowly settle. The flush was back in her skin. “God, your parents really screwed you up,” she muttered.

“Thank you, Freud.”

“What if I don’t fit in all these categories?”

“We’ll work on it.”

Her eyes narrowed and she bit her lower lip. Nick flashed back to the first time he kissed her, when he was sixteen. How his mouth had pressed against hers, feeling her tremble. His fingers lightly caressing the bare skin of her shoulders. The fresh, clean scent of flowers and soap teasing his nostrils. Afterward, her features shone with innocence, beauty, purity. Waiting for the happy-ever-after part.

Then she had smiled and told him she loved him. Wanted to marry him. He should have patted her on the head, said something nice, and gone on his way. Instead, her marriage remark had been sweet and tempting in a way that had scared the crap out of him. Even at sixteen, Nick knew no relationship could ever be beautiful—they all eventually turned ugly. He’d laughed, called her a baby, and left her alone in the woods. The vulnerability and hurt in her face had tore at his heart, but he’d hardened himself to the emotion. The earlier she learned, the better.

Nick had made sure they both learned tough lessons that day.

He shook off the memory and concentrated on the present. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for in this marriage?”

“One hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Cash. Up front and not at the end of the year.”

He leaned closer to her, intrigued. “Hell of a lot of money. Gambling debts?”

An invisible wall slammed between them. “No.”

“Shopping spree?”

Temper flared in her eyes. “None of your business. Part of the deal is that you ask me no questions about the money or how I intend to use it.”

“Hmmm, anything else?”

“Where do we live?”

“My home.”

“I’m not giving up my apartment. I’ll pay the rent as usual.”

Surprise shot through him. “As my wife, you’ll need a proper wardrobe. You’ll get an allowance and have access to my personal shopper.”

“I’ll wear what I want, when I want, and pay my own damn way.”

He fought back a smile. He almost enjoyed the match of minds, just like he had in the old days. “You’ll play hostess to my business associates. I have a huge deal on the line, so you have to make nice with the other wives.”

“I can manage to keep my elbows off the table and laugh at their stupid jokes. But I need to be free to run my own business and enjoy my own social life.”

“Of course. I expect you to carry on your individual lifestyle.”

“As long as I don’t embarrass you?”


She tapped her toe in rhythm to her fingernails. “I’ve got some problems with this list.”

“I’m a flexible person.”

“I’m very close to my family and they’ll need a good reason to believe I’m suddenly getting married.”

“Just tell them we ran into each other after all these years and decided to marry.”

Alexa rolled her eyes. “They’re not allowed to know about this arrangement, so they need to believe we’re madly in love. You’ll have to come to dinner so we can make the announcement. And it needs to be convincing.”

He remembered that her father had left them for the bottle and abandoned her family. “You still speak with your father?”


“You used to hate him.”

“He made amends. I chose to forgive. Anyway, my brother and sister-in-law and niece and the twins all live with my parents. They’ll ask a million questions and you have to be convincing.”

He frowned. “I don’t like complications.”

“Tough luck. That’s part of the deal.”

Nick figured he’d give her the small victory. “Fine. Anything else?”

“Yeah. I get a real wedding.”

His eyes narrowed. “I was thinking justice of the peace.”

“I was thinking a white dress outside with my family in attendance and Maggie as maid of honor.”

“I don’t like weddings.”

“So you’ve said. My family will never believe I eloped. We have to do this for them.”

“I’m marrying you for business reasons, Alexa. Not your family.”

Her chin tilted up. He made a mental note of the gesture. Seemed like a warning before she charged into battle. “Believe me, I’m not happy about this either, but we have to play the part if people are going to think this is real.”

His features tightened but he managed a nod. “Fine.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Anything else?”

She looked a bit nervous as she shot him a glance, then rose from the chair and began pacing the room. His focus switched to her perfect rear end, swinging back and forth, and his zipper strained in discomfort.

His last fleeting rational thought skipped past his vision. Cut your losses here and now and walk out the door. This woman is going to turn your life upside down, diagonal and sideways, and you’ve always hated the fun house.

Nick fought the sudden surge of fear and waited for her answer.

Ah, hell.

Why did he have to be so damned gorgeous?

She snuck a glance at him as she paced. A vulgar curse rose to her lips but she forced it back down. Growing up, she used to sneer and call him Pretty Boy because of his golden hair. Those youthful curls had been tamed into a short, conservative cut, but some unruly strands fell across his brow in stubborn rebellion. The colors had deepened with time, but reminded her of Chex mix cereal, ranging from honey blond to wheat. His features had hardened—his jaw now slightly chiseled. Perfect white teeth flashed at her during that brief smile. His eyes were the same deep chestnut, and veiled secrets kept firmly locked behind a wall. But his body…

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