Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(12)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(12)
Author: Jennifer Probst

“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?”

“Dad—”

“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.”

   
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