Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(16)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(16)
Author: Jennifer Probst

“The karmic cycle, when someone screws up really bad and hurts you. Our first instinct is to hurt back, or refuse to forgive.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Ah, but now the cycle of hurt and abuse continues. When he came back, I decided I only had one father, and I’d accept whatever he could give. Eventually, he gave up the booze and tried to make up for the past.”

Nick made a rude sound. “He took off when you were young and left his family behind for the bottle. Abandoned your twin sisters. Then he shows up asking for forgiveness? Why would you even want him in your life?”

She forked another shrimp and let it hover right before her lips. “I made a choice,” she said. “I’ll never forget, but if my own mother learned to forgive him, how can I refuse? Family sticks together no matter what happens.”

The simplicity of her ability to forgive shook him to the core. He poured more wine. “Better to walk away with your head held high and your pride intact. Let them suffer for all the pain they caused.”

She seemed to think his words over. “I almost did. But I realized besides being my father, he’s just a human being who screwed up. I’d have my pride, but I wouldn’t have a father. When I made my decision I broke the cycle. He ended up getting sober and rebuilt our relationship. Have you ever thought of contacting your father?”

His emotions slammed into hyper-speed. Nick fought past the old bitterness and managed a shrug. “Jed Ryan doesn’t exist in my eyes. That was my decision.” He prepared for pity but her face only reflected a deep empathy that soothed him. How many times had he craved an actual beating or a punishment from his father instead of neglect? Somehow, the not caring burned deeper and festered.

“What about your mom?”

He concentrated on his plate. “She’s shacked up with another actor. She likes when they’re in show business. It makes her feel important.”

“Do you see her often?”

“The idea of an adult son reminds her of age. She likes to pretend I don’t exist.”

“I’m sorry.”

The words were simple but straight from the heart. Nick looked up from his plate. For one second, awareness and energy and understanding pulsed in the air between them, then slid away as if it had never occurred. His lopsided smile mocked his own confession. “Poor little rich boy. But you’re right about one thing—that was a hell of a Mitsubishi.”

She laughed and changed the subject. “Tell me about the deal you’re working on. Must be something big in order to remain celibate for a year.”

He let the smart-mouthed comment slide, but shot her a warning look. “I want to involve Dreamscape in a bid to build down by the waterfront.”

One brow arched. “I heard they want to build a spa, along with a few restaurants. Everyone’s buzzing about it. People used to be afraid to go near the river.”

He leaned forward with eagerness. “The area’s changing. They’ve beefed up security, and the few bars and shops already there are doing well. This will break the area wide open to both residents and tourism. Can you picture lit pathways along the water, with outside lounges? How about a huge spa that overlooks the mountains while you get a massage? It’s the future.”

“I also heard they only want the biggest companies in Manhattan to bid on the job.”

His body clenched in an almost physical need. His dream was right before him and he’d let nothing stand in his way. His drilled out the words out like a mantra. “I’m going to get that contract.”

She blinked, then slowly nodded as if his own belief secured hers. “Can Dreamscape handle such a job?”

He took a sip of wine. “The board thinks it’s too ambitious, but I’m going to prove them wrong. If I succeed, Dreamscape will rise to the top.”

“Is it about the money?”

He shook his head. “I don’t care about the money. I want to make my mark, and I know how I want to approach it. Nothing too citified. Nothing to compete with the mountains, but a structure that bows to nature and blends, rather than fighting back.”

“It sounds like you’ve thought about this for a long time.”

He sopped up the last piece of bread in the remaining sauce, then popped it into his mouth. “I knew the city would make this decision soon, and I wanted to be prepared. I’ve been thinking about designs by the river for years. Now I’m ready.”

“How are you going to get it?”

Nick concentrated on his plate. Funny, she seemed able to tell when he lied. Had from childhood. “I already have one of the partners on board. Richard Drysell is building the spa, and we share the same vision. He’s having a dinner party next Saturday. The final two men I need to convince will be there, so I’m hoping to make an impression.” He didn’t share how Alexa fit into the mix. He looked upon his new wife as a way close the deal, but it would be better explained the night of the party.

Nick lifted his head and spotted her cleaned plate.

The full salad bowl remained on the table between them, untouched. The pasta and bread and wine were depleted. She looked like she was on the verge of exploding. “Well, the salad looks awfully good. Aren’t you going to eat it?”

She forced a bright smile and forked up a leafy piece. “Of course. I adore salads.”

He grinned. “Any dessert?”

She let out a groan. “Funny.” They cleaned up quickly, stacked everything in the dishwasher, and then she stretched out on the camel-colored sofa in the living room. Nick figured she was hoping for a faster way to digest.

“Are you going to work tonight?” she asked.

“No, it’s late. What about you?”

“Nah, too tired.” The room filled with a short silence. “So, what do you want to do?”

Her shirt snaked up a precious inch. The smooth, tanned skin of her stomach wreaked havoc with his concentration. He had some very clear images of what they could do. They involved slowly lifting her shirt. Then licking her ni**les until they tightened under his tongue. The rest centered on stripping off those sweat pants and testing how fast he could make her burn up in his arms. Since none of those options were possible, he gave a shrug. “Don’t know. TV? Movie?”

She shook her head. “Poker.”

“Excuse me?”

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