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

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

Until the lawyers read the will.

Then he realized the joke was on him.

He would inherit the majority of the Dreamscape shares as soon as he married. The marriage must last for one year, to any woman he chose, and a prenuptial agreement was acceptable. If Nick decided not to comply with his uncle’s wishes, he’d retain fifty-percent; the balance would be split among the board members, and Nick would be nothing but a figurehead. Instead of creating buildings, he’d be stuck in meetings and corporate politics; exactly what he did not want to do with his life.

And Uncle Earl had known it.

So now Nick had to find a wife.

He hit the switch and the incline lowered. He slowed his pace and evened his breath. With methodical precision, his mind cut through the emotional emptiness and scanned the possibilities. He got off the treadmill, grabbed a chilled bottle of Evian from the minibar, and walked back to his chair. He took a swallow of the icy, clean liquid, and placed the sweating bottle on his desk. Waited a few minutes as he gathered his thoughts. Then picked up the gold pen and rolled it between his fingers.

He printed the words, each a nail banged into his own personal coffin.

Find a wife.

He wouldn’t waste any more time griping about unfairness. Nick decided to make a clear list of the attributes his wife would need, and see if he could think of any appropriate candidates.

Immediately, an image of Gabriella arose, but he squashed the thought. The stunning supermodel he currently dated was perfect for social functions and great sex, but not marriage. Gabriella was a sharp conversationalist and he enjoyed her company, but he was afraid she was already falling in love with him. She’d hinted at her desire to have children, which was a deal-breaker. No matter how he laid out the ground rules of a marriage, emotion would ruin it. She’d become jealous and demanding, like any normal wife. No pre-nup would ever stand up to her greed once she felt betrayed.

He took another drink of water and ran his thumb in circles over the rough edge of the bottle top. He’d once read if a person made a list of all the qualities he admired in a woman, one appeared. Nick frowned as he grabbed at the fleeting thought. He was almost positive the theory had something to do with the universe. Getting back what you put into the cosmos. Some metaphysical crap he didn’t believe in.

But today he was desperate.

He set the pen on the left edge of the page and wrote his list.

A woman who does not love me.

A woman I do not desire to sleep with.

A woman who does not have a big family.

A woman who does not have any animals

A woman who does not want any children.

A woman who has an independent career.

A woman who will view the relationship as a business venture.

A woman who is not overly emotional or impulsive.

A woman I can trust.

Nick read over the summary. He knew some of his desired qualities were stubbornly optimistic but if the universe theory worked, he might as well put down everything he wanted. He needed a woman who looked upon the venture as a business opportunity. Perhaps, someone who craved a large payoff. He intended to offer many fringe benefits, but he wanted the marriage in name only. No sex equals no jealousy. No overly emotional woman equals no love.

No messiness equals a perfect marriage.

He sifted through each woman he’d dated in his past, every female friend he’d exchanged words with, every business associate he ever lunched with.

He came up with nothing.

Frustration nibbled on the edges of his nerves. He was a thirty-year-old man, reasonably attractive, intelligent, and financially secure. And he couldn’t come up with one decent woman to marry.

He had one week to find his wife.

His cell phone rang. Nick picked it up. “Ryan.”

“Nick, it’s me. Maggie.” She paused. “Did you find a wife yet?”

A chuckle strangled his lips. His sister was the only woman in the world who got him to laugh on a regular basis. Even if it was sometimes at his expense. “Working on it now.”

“I think I found her.”

His heartbeat sped up. “Who is it?”

Another pause. “You’d have to meet her terms but I don’t think they’ll be a problem. Be open-minded. I know that’s not your forte. But you can trust her.”

He checked the last item on his list. A strange buzzing hummed in his ears as if in warning of his sister’s next words. “Who is it, Maggs?”

Silence fell over the line for a beat. “Alexa.”

The room whirled in a dizzying blur at the familiar name from his past. His only thought flashed like a mantra in vivid neon, over and over.

No frickin’ way.

Chapter Two

Nick glanced around, satisfied with the result. His private conference room provided a business atmosphere, and the bouquet of fresh flowers his secretary had placed in the center of the table offered a personal touch amongst the plush wine carpeting, the rich gleam of cherry wood, and buttery leather chairs. The contracts were neatly laid out, along with an elegant silver tray filled with tea, coffee, and a variety of pastries. Formal, yet friendly—which would reflect the tone of their marriage.

He ignored the pitch deep in his gut when he thought of encountering Alexandria McKenzie again. He wondered how she’d grown. The stories his sister shared with him painted a picture of a reckless, impulsive woman. He initially balked at Maggie’s suggestion—Alexa didn’t fit the image he needed. Stubborn memories of a free-spirited kid with a ponytail bobbing teased his thoughts, even though he knew she owned a respectable bookstore. He still thought of her as Maggie’s playmate, even though he hadn’t seen her in years.

But time was running out.

They shared a distant past, and he sensed Alexa could be trusted. She may not fit his idea of the perfect wife, but she needed money. Fast. Maggie remained silent regarding the reason, but painted Alexa as desperate. A need for cash he was comfortable with—it was black and white. No gray areas. No ideas of intimacy between them. A formal business transaction between old friends. Nick could live with that.

 He reached for the intercom to buzz his secretary, but the heavy door smoothly swung open at the same time and closed with a solid click.

He turned.

Deep blue eyes cut straight to his with little hesitation and a clearness that told him this woman would lose any poker game—she was brutally honest and unwilling to bluff. He recognized her gaze well enough, but age had changed the colors to a disturbing mix of aquamarine and sapphire. Certain images came to mind—plumbing the depths of the Caribbean Sea in search of its mysteries. A canvas of Sinatra’s umbrella skies stretched so far and wide a man couldn’t find the beginning or end.

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