Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(5)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(5)
Author: Jennifer Probst

“You have a list of requirements?” She said it as if she were accusing him of a capital crime instead of making a list of assets and liabilities.

He cleared his throat. “Just a few qualities I’d like my wife to have.” She opened her mouth to speak but no words emerged. She seemed to struggle to get them free.

“You want a hostess, an orphan, and a robot all rolled into one. Is that fair?”

He took a deep breath. “You’re exaggerating. Just because I’d like to marry someone with grace and business sense, doesn’t mean I’m a monster.”

She gave an unladylike snort. “You want a Stepford wife without the sex. Haven’t you learned anything about women since you were fourteen?”

“I learned plenty. That’s why Uncle Earl had to force me into an institution that favors women in the first place.”

She gasped. “Men get plenty out of marriage!”

“Like what?”

“Steady sex and companionship.”

“After six months the headaches start and you bore each other to tears.”

“Someone to grow old with.”

“Men never want to grow old. That’s why they keep seeking out younger women.”

Her mouth dropped open. She closed it with one quick snap. “Children…a family…someone who will love you in sickness and health.”

“Someone who spends all your money and nags you every night and bitches about cleaning up your mess.”

“You’re sick.”

“You’re deluded.”

She shook her head, causing her silky black curls to lift around her face, then slowly settle. The flush was back in her skin. “God, your parents really screwed you up,” she muttered.

“Thank you, Freud.”

“What if I don’t fit in all these categories?”

“We’ll work on it.”

Her eyes narrowed and she bit her lower lip. Nick flashed back to the first time he kissed her, when he was sixteen. How his mouth had pressed against hers, feeling her tremble. His fingers lightly caressing the bare skin of her shoulders. The fresh, clean scent of flowers and soap teasing his nostrils. Afterward, her features shone with innocence, beauty, purity. Waiting for the happy-ever-after part.

Then she had smiled and told him she loved him. Wanted to marry him. He should have patted her on the head, said something nice, and gone on his way. Instead, her marriage remark had been sweet and tempting in a way that had scared the crap out of him. Even at sixteen, Nick knew no relationship could ever be beautiful—they all eventually turned ugly. He’d laughed, called her a baby, and left her alone in the woods. The vulnerability and hurt in her face had tore at his heart, but he’d hardened himself to the emotion. The earlier she learned, the better.

Nick had made sure they both learned tough lessons that day.

He shook off the memory and concentrated on the present. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for in this marriage?”

“One hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Cash. Up front and not at the end of the year.”

He leaned closer to her, intrigued. “Hell of a lot of money. Gambling debts?”

An invisible wall slammed between them. “No.”

“Shopping spree?”

Temper flared in her eyes. “None of your business. Part of the deal is that you ask me no questions about the money or how I intend to use it.”

“Hmmm, anything else?”

“Where do we live?”

“My home.”

“I’m not giving up my apartment. I’ll pay the rent as usual.”

Surprise shot through him. “As my wife, you’ll need a proper wardrobe. You’ll get an allowance and have access to my personal shopper.”

“I’ll wear what I want, when I want, and pay my own damn way.”

He fought back a smile. He almost enjoyed the match of minds, just like he had in the old days. “You’ll play hostess to my business associates. I have a huge deal on the line, so you have to make nice with the other wives.”

“I can manage to keep my elbows off the table and laugh at their stupid jokes. But I need to be free to run my own business and enjoy my own social life.”

“Of course. I expect you to carry on your individual lifestyle.”

“As long as I don’t embarrass you?”

“Exactly.”

She tapped her toe in rhythm to her fingernails. “I’ve got some problems with this list.”

“I’m a flexible person.”

“I’m very close to my family and they’ll need a good reason to believe I’m suddenly getting married.”

“Just tell them we ran into each other after all these years and decided to marry.”

Alexa rolled her eyes. “They’re not allowed to know about this arrangement, so they need to believe we’re madly in love. You’ll have to come to dinner so we can make the announcement. And it needs to be convincing.”

He remembered that her father had left them for the bottle and abandoned her family. “You still speak with your father?”

“Yes.”

“You used to hate him.”

“He made amends. I chose to forgive. Anyway, my brother and sister-in-law and niece and the twins all live with my parents. They’ll ask a million questions and you have to be convincing.”

He frowned. “I don’t like complications.”

“Tough luck. That’s part of the deal.”

Nick figured he’d give her the small victory. “Fine. Anything else?”

“Yeah. I get a real wedding.”

His eyes narrowed. “I was thinking justice of the peace.”

“I was thinking a white dress outside with my family in attendance and Maggie as maid of honor.”

“I don’t like weddings.”

“So you’ve said. My family will never believe I eloped. We have to do this for them.”

“I’m marrying you for business reasons, Alexa. Not your family.”

Her chin tilted up. He made a mental note of the gesture. Seemed like a warning before she charged into battle. “Believe me, I’m not happy about this either, but we have to play the part if people are going to think this is real.”

His features tightened but he managed a nod. “Fine.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Anything else?”

   
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