Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(7)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(7)
Author: Jennifer Probst

She stood on tiptoe and grabbed the upper arms of his T-shirt. Her nails dug into the fabric and cut flesh. “You better fix this,” she hissed.

“What do you want me to do?”

She blinked. Her lip trembled as she bit out the words. “Do something, damn it! Prove to my father this will be a real marriage or—”

“Alexa?” The echo of her name drifted into the open door from the hallway, her mother’s gentle, concerned voice checking if they were okay.

“Your mother’s coming,” he said.

“I know—she probably heard us arguing. Do something!”



“Fine!” He grabbed her around the waist, dragged her body flush against his, and ducked his head. His lips crushed hers as his hands wrapped around her tightly so they were plastered against each other, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, br**sts to chest.

The breath whooshed out of her lungs and she swayed as her feet cut out on her. She expected a precise, controlled kiss to calmly show her mother they were lovers. Instead she got hot testosterone and raw sexual energy. She got warm lips melded over hers. His teeth nipped. His tongue burrowed inside and plunged in and out with sheer command, bending her back over his arm to take every last drop of her resolve.

She hung on and gave it all back. Ravenous for his touch, she got drunk on his musky scent and taste, reveled in the hard length of his body as animal heat rose between them and pushed them over the edge.

She moaned deep in her throat. He slid his fingers into the heavy weight of her hair to hold her head still as he continued the sensual invasion. Her br**sts grew heavy and full, and liquid heat pulsed between her thighs.

“Alexa, I—oh!”

Nick ripped his mouth from hers. Dazed, Alexa searched his face for some sign of emotion, but he focused on her mother. “I’m sorry, Maria.” His grin was wry and totally male.

Maria laughed and looked at her daughter, still snug in his arms. “Sorry to interrupt. Come join us when you’re finished.”

Alexa heard footsteps retreating. Slowly, Nick’s gaze traveled downward.

She shuddered. She expected to see a fog of passion. Instead, his chestnut eyes were clear. His face seemed calm. If not for the hard length pressed against her thigh, Alexa would have thought the kiss hadn’t affected him. She was dragged back to another time and place, deep in the woods, when her thoughts were freely spoken and her trust shattered. The first touch of his lips over hers, the boyish scent of cologne rising to her nostrils, the gentle bite of his fingers on her h*ps as he held her.

Icy fear trickled down her spine. If he laughed at her again, she’d call off the whole thing. If he laughed…

His arms released her and he stepped back. Silence surged between them like a heavy wave gaining speed and ready to crash.

“I think we solved our problem,” he said.

She didn’t respond.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?”

She stuck her chin high in the air and hid every messy emotion that writhed like snakes in her belly. “I guess so.”

He paused, then reached for her. “We better present a united front.”

Five fingers closed around hers with a graceful strength that brought tears to her eyes. She fought them back and decided she was in major PMS mode. There was no other reason why a kiss from Nick Ryan should bring so much pleasure, yet hurt so deeply.

“Are you okay?

She gritted her teeth and smiled so brightly she could have done an advertisement for toothpaste. “Of course. Brilliant idea, by the way.”

“Thank you.”

“Just don’t stiffen up again like a corpse out there. Pretend I’m Gabriella.”

“I could never confuse you and Gabriella.”

The cutting remark slashed through her but she refused to show weakness. “I’m sure you’re right. But you’re no fantasy for me either, Pretty Boy.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Forget it.” She led him back out into the living room. “Sorry for the interruption, guys. I think we better get going, it’s late.”

Everyone jumped up to say good-bye. Maria kissed her cheek and winked with approval. “I may not like the rush,” she whispered, “but you’re a grown woman. Ignore your father and follow your heart.”

Her throat tightened. “Thanks, Mom. We’ve got a lot to do this week.”

“Don’t worry, honey.”

They were almost to the door when Jim took a last ditch attempt. “Alexandria, the least you could do is postpone the wedding a few weeks for the family. Nick, surely you can’t disagree?”

Nick put his hand on her father’s shoulder. His other firmly clasped his fiancée’s. “I understand why you want us to wait, Jim. But you see, I’m madly in love with your daughter, and we’re getting married on Saturday. We really want your blessing.”

Everyone grew quiet. Even Taylor stopped her babbling to watch the scene before her. Alexa waited for the explosion.

Jim nodded. “Okay. Can I pull you aside for a moment?”


“Just for a moment.” Nick followed Jim into the kitchen.

Alexa bit back the worry as she chatted with Izzy and Gen about bridesmaid dresses. She caught a glimpse of Nick’s serious expression as he listened to her father. After a few minutes, they shook hands and Jim looked a bit chastened as he kissed her good-bye.

They said their final farewells and got into the car. “What did my father want?”

Nick pulled out of the driveway and concentrated on the road in front of him. “He was worried about paying for the wedding.”

Guilt assaulted her in massive gulps. She’d completely forgotten about the wedding expenses. Of course, her father probably assumed he’d pay, even though times have changed. Sweat pricked her forehead. “What did you tell him?”

Nick glanced at her. “I refused to let him pay, and told him if I’d done what he asked and waited a year, I’d accept his money. But because this was our decision to rush the wedding, I insisted I foot the bill. So we made a bargain. He pays for his tux and your brother’s. I pay for all the girls’ dresses—including yours—and the rest of the wedding.”

She let out her breath in a rush and studied him in the flash of oncoming headlights. His face remained expressionless, but his gesture tugged at her heart. “Thank you,” she said softly.

He jerked as if her words punched through him. “No need. I’d never hurt your parents. No one usually has enough money to pay for a wedding in a week. And I understand family pride. I’d never strip them of that.”

She choked back emotion as they drove for a while in silence. Alexa stared out the window into the darkness. His offer suggested a real relationship between them, and made her long for more. She should have introduced her family to a real life love—not a fake. The lies of the night pressed down on her spirits as she realized she’d made a bargain with the devil for cold hard cash. Cash to save her family. But cash nonetheless.

His gravelly voice broke the silence and her gloomy thoughts. “You seemed upset about our little ruse tonight.”

“I hate lying to my family.”

“Then why do it?”

An uncomfortable silence settled between them.

Nick pressed on. “How badly do you want this money? You don’t seem too thrilled with the idea of marrying me. You’re lying to your family and holding a fake wedding. All for a business expansion? You could get a loan from a bank like most businesses do. Something isn’t adding up.”

The words bubbled up and she almost told him the truth. Her father’s sickness shortly after his return. The lack of medical insurance to pay the staggering bills. Her brother’s struggle to get through medical school while supporting a new family. The endless calls from collectors until her mother had no choice but to sell the house, already heavily mortgaged.

And the weight of responsibility and helplessness Alexa carried along the way.

“I need the money,” she said simply.

“Need? Or want?”

She closed her eyes at the taunt. He wanted to believe she was selfish and shallow. In that moment, she realized she needed every defense against this man. His kiss had shattered all illusions of neutrality between them. His lips over hers had rocked her to the bottom of her soul, just like the very first time in the woods. Nicholas Ryan tore through her walls and left her vulnerable. After a week living in close quarters, she’d be jumping his bones.

Alexa had no other choice.

She needed to cultivate his hatred for her. If he thought she had shady character, he’d leave her alone and she’d walk away with her pride intact and her family whole. She refused to foster his pity or take his charity. If she told the truth about her family, the rest of her defenses would shatter. He may even give her the money free and clear, and then she’d be forever in his debt.

The image of him casting her in a role of the martyr to save Tara choked her with humiliation. No, better off if he believed her to be a cold-hearted businesswoman as he craved. At least he’d resent her and keep his distance. Just being near the man set her off like a firecracker, and she’d be damned if she took a backseat to his precious Gabriella.

Her deal with the devil would be on her own terms.

Alexa drew on her inner reserve and lapsed into her second phase of lies for the night. “You really want to know the truth?”

“Yeah. I want to know.”

“You grew up with money, Pretty Boy. Money smoothes out a lot of unhappiness and stress. I’m tired of struggling like my mother. I don’t want to wait another five years before expanding my bookstore. I don’t want to deal with interest and banks and debt-to-income ratios. I’m going to use the money to build a cafe onto BookCrazy and make it a success.”

“What if it fails? You’ll be back where you started.”

“The property is building in value so I can always sell. And I’m putting the extra into a solid financial portfolio. I can buy a small house outright and be secure by the time our marriage dissolves.”

“Why not ask for $200,000? Or even more? Why not squeeze me dry?”

She shrugged. “I estimated one-fifty would be enough to give me everything I want. If I thought you’d give me more money, I would’ve asked. After all, other than dealing with my family, it’s a pretty easy bargain. I just have to put up with you.”

“I guess you’re more logical than I thought.” The statement should have been a compliment. She burned with humiliation, but knew she’d bought the distance desperately needed. Of course, the price was her character. But she reminded herself of the goal and remained silent.

He pulled up to her apartment building. She opened the car door and grabbed her purse. “I’d invite you up, but I think we’ll be seeing enough of each other in the next year.”

He nodded. “Good night. I’ll be in touch. I can have the movers help you whenever you’re ready. Do whatever you want with the wedding and let me know where and when to show up.”

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