Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(2)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(2)
Author: Jennifer Probst

Alexa gritted her teeth. Why was she constantly barraged over her choice of New York teams? “The Mets have heart and character, and I need a man who can root for the underdog. I refuse to sleep with a Yankees fan.”

“You’re hopeless. I give up,” Maggie said. “Number two: loves books, art, and poetry.” She paused to think about it, then shrugged. “I accept. Three: believes in monogamy. Very important to the list. Number four: wants children.” She looked up. “How many?”

Alexa smiled at the thought. “I’d like three. But I’d settle for two. Should I have specified how many in the list?”

“No, Earth Mother will get it right.” Maggie continued. “Number five: knows how to communicate with a woman. Good one. I’m sick of reading books about Venus and Mars. I’ve gone through the whole series and I still don’t have a clue. Number six: loves animals.” She groaned. “That’s as bad as the Mets!”

Alexa scooted around on the carpet to face her. “If he hates dogs, how can I continue my volunteer program at the shelter? And what if he’s a hunter? I’d wake up in the middle of the night and find a dead deer staring at me from over the mantelpiece.”

“You’re so dramatic.” Maggie turned back to the list. “Number seven: has a moral code of ethics and believes in honesty. Should’ve been number one on the list, but what the hell, I’m not a Mets fan. Number eight: a good lover.” She waggled her eyebrows. “That would be number two on my list. But I’m proud the item even shows up. Maybe you’re not as hopeless as I thought.”

Alexa swallowed hard, dread curling her insides. “Keep going.”

“Number nine: has a strong sense of family. Makes sense—you guys remind me of the frickin’ Waltons. Okay number ten…”

The clock ticked. Alexa watched Maggie read the item again.

“Alexa, I think I’m reading number ten wrong.”

Alexa sighed. “Probably not.”

Maggie recited the last request. “Needs $150,000 available cash.” She looked up. “I need more details.”

Alexa lifted her chin. “I need a man I can love, with an extra $150,000 thrown in. And I need him fast.”

Maggie shook her head like she surfaced from underwater. “For what?”

“To save Tara.”

Maggie blinked. “Tara?”

“Yeah, my mother’s home. You know, like in the movie, Gone with the Wind? Remember how my mom used to joke about needing more cotton to pay the bills? I haven’t told you how bad it’s got, Maggs. Mom wants to sell and I can’t let her. They have no money, and nowhere else to go. I’ll do anything to help, even marry. Just like Scarlett.”

Maggie moaned and grabbed her purse. She ripped out her phone and punched in some numbers.

“What are you doing?” Alexa fought panic at the thought her best friend wouldn’t understand. After all, she’d never asked for a man to solve her problems before. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.

“Canceling my date. I think this new item needs to be discussed. Then I’m calling my therapist. She’s very good, discreet, and she takes midnight appointments.”

Alexa laughed. “You’re such a good friend, Maggie.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Nicholas Ryan had a fortune at his fingertips.

But to get the one thing he wanted, he needed a wife.

Nick believed in many things. Working hard to accomplish a goal. Controlling anger and resorting to reason when a moment became confrontational. And creating buildings. Buildings that were solid, yet aesthetically beautiful. Smooth angles and sharp lines blending together. Bricks and concrete and glass attesting to the solidity that people craved in ordinary life. The short moment of wonder when a person looks upon the final creation for the first time. All of these things made sense to him.

Nick did not believe in love everlasting, marriage, and family. These things made no sense, and he had decided not to incorporate such societal themes into his life.

Unfortunately, Uncle Earl had changed the rules.

Nick’s gut coiled, and his sick sense of humor almost caused a laugh to spill from his lips. He rose from his leather chair, stripped off his navy jacket, striped silk tie, and snowy white shirt. One flick of his wrist unbuckled his belt, and he quickly changed into a pair of gray sweatpants and matching T-shirt. He thrust both feet into his Nike Air sneakers and entered his office’s inner sanctum, which he’d filled with models, sketches, inspiring photos, a treadmill, some weights, and a fully stocked bar. He hit the button on the remote for the MP3 player. The strains of La Traviata filled the room and cleared his head.

He turned on the treadmill and tried not to think of smoking. Even after five years, when the stress kicked up a notch, he longed for a cigarette. Annoyed at his weakness when the urge hit, he exercised. Running soothed him, especially in his perfectly controlled environment. No loud voices interrupting his concentration, no scorching sunlight, no rocks or gravel impeding his path. He set the panel and began the steady pace that would lead him toward a solution.

Even though he understood his uncle’s intentions, the sense of betrayal slowly ate away at his peace. In the end, one of the only family members he loved had used him as a pawn.

Nick shook his head. He should have seen this coming. Uncle Earl had spent his last few months alive spouting the importance of family, and had thought Nick’s response was lackluster. Nick wondered why his uncle was surprised. After all, his family should have been an advertisement for birth control.

As Nick had drifted in and out of relationships, one thing became clear—all women wanted marriage, and marriage meant messiness. Fights about emotion. Children tearing them both at the seams, wanting more attention. Needing more space, until the end became the same as every other relationship. Divorce. With children as the casualties.

No thanks.

He pumped up the incline and adjusted the speed as his thoughts whirled. Uncle Earl remained stubbornly optimistic until the bitter end that a woman would save his nephew’s life. The heart attack had struck hard and fast. When the lawyers finally descended like a pack of vultures on the scent of blood money, Nick thought the legalities would be easy. His sister, Maggie, had already made it quite clear she wanted nothing to do with the business. Uncle Earl had no other relatives. So, for the first time, Nick believed in good fortune. Finally, he’d have something completely his own.

   
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