Home > The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(9)

The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire #1)(9)
Author: Jennifer Probst

She wondered if it was possible to get frostbite from the chill he emanated. “No.”

She waited for more but nothing came. “How about your mom? Did she remarry?”

“No. I don’t want to talk about my parents. There’s no point.”

“Wonderful. What are we supposed to tell my family about them? They’ll ask.”

His words were clipped. “Tell them my father’s lounging in Mexico and my mother is off somewhere with her new boyfriend. Tell them whatever you want. They won’t be at the wedding anyway.”

She opened her mouth but his warning glare told her this conversation was over. Great. She just adored his chattiness.

Alexa pointed toward the upcoming street sign. “Here’s the turn for my parents’.”

Nick pulled into the circular driveway and cut the engine. They both studied the white Victorian house. Even from outside, the structure radiated friendly warmth from each classic pillar to the graceful wraparound porch. Weeping willow trees surrounded the edges of the sloping lawn almost as in protection. Large picture windows with black shutters dotted the front. Darkness now veiled the symptoms of neglect due to financial difficulties. It hid the peeling white paint on the columns, the cracked step at the top of the patio, the worn roof. She gave a deep sigh as the home of her childhood settled around her like a comforting blanket.

 “Are we ready?” he asked.

She glanced at him. His face was shuttered, his eyes distant. He looked hip and casual in his khaki Dockers, white Calvin Klein T-shirt, and leather boat shoes. His sun-bleached hair was neatly tamed except for one stubborn curl over his brow. His chest filled the shirt out nicely. A little too nicely for her taste. Obviously, he lifted weights. She wondered if he had a washboard stomach, but the thought did bad things to her own tummy so she pushed away the idea and concentrated on their immediate problem.

“You look like you stepped in a pile of dog doo.”

His neutral expression slipped. The corner of his mouth kicked up an inch. “Hmmm, Maggie said you wrote poetry.”

“We’re supposed to be madly in love. If they suspect otherwise, I can’t marry you, and my mother would make my life a living hell. So put on a good act. Oh, and don’t be afraid to touch me. I promise I don’t have cooties.”

“I’m not afraid to—”

His breath hissed as she reached out and brushed the errant curl away from his eyes. The silky feel of his hair as it slid through her fingers pleased her. The shocked expression on his face tempted her to continue the caress by sliding the back of her hand down his cheek with one slow motion. His skin felt both smooth and rough to the touch.

“See? No big deal.”

His full lips tightened with what she figured was annoyance. Obviously, Nick Ryan looked at her not as a grown woman, but more of an asexual human being. Like an amoeba.

She flung open the door and cut off his response. “Show time.”

He muttered something under his breath and followed her.

They didn’t have to worry about ringing the doorbell. Her family streamed out the door one by one, until the front porch overflowed with her screeching sisters and two appraising males. Alexa had already called ahead to warn them of her engagement. She’d come up with a story about seeing Nick on the sly, a whirlwind romance, and an impulsive engagement. She played up their past so her parents believed they had always been in touch over the years as friends.

Nick tried to huddle back but her sisters refused to comply. Isabella and Genevieve launched themselves into his arms for a big hug, chattering at once.

“Congratulations!”

“Welcome to the family!”

“Izzy, I told you he’d turn out to be gorgeous. How awesome is this? Childhood friends and now husband and wife!”

“Did you set a wedding date?”

“Can I be in the bridal party?”

Nick looked as if he was about to vault over the porch and make his escape.

Alexa collapsed into laughter. She cut off her younger twin sisters by pulling them to her for a hug. “Stop scaring him, guys. I finally got a fiancé. Don’t ruin this for me.”

They giggled. A double vision of two sixteen-year-old girls with chocolate hair, navy eyes, and long skinny legs stood before her. One had braces, one didn’t. Alexa bet their teachers were grateful for the distinction. Her sisters were full of mischief and loved playing the switch game.

A demanding squeal pulled her attention away. She lifted up the blonde angel at her feet and covered her three-year-old niece with kisses. “Taylor, the Troublemaker,” she said, “meet Nick Ryan. Uncle Nick to you, squirt.”

Taylor looked him over with the careful attentiveness only a child exudes. Nick awaited her opinion with patience. Then her face broke in a sunny smile. “Hi, Nick!”

He smiled back. “Hi, Taylor.”

“Approval bestowed,” Alexa said. She urged Nick over. “Let me make the rest of the introductions. My twin sisters, Isabella and Genevieve, now all grown up and out of diapers.” She ignored their dual groans and grinned. “My sister-in-law, Gina, and you know my brother Lance and my parents. Everyone, this is Nick Ryan, my fiancé.”

She didn’t even stumble over the word.

Her mother grabbed Nick’s cheeks and gave him a smacking kiss. “Nicky, you’re all grown up.” She flung out her arms in welcome. “And you’re so handsome.”

Alexa wondered if that was a hint of red on Nick’s cheeks, then dismissed the thought.

He cleared his throat. “Umm, thank you, Mrs. McKenzie. It’s been a long time.”

Lance gave him a friendly punch in the shoulder. “Hey, Nick, haven’t seen you in centuries. Now I hear you’re going to be part of the family. Congrats.”

“Thanks.”

Her father walked over and stuck out his hand. “Call me Jim,” he said. “I remember you used to torture my little girl on many occasions. I think her first official curse word came out with you in mind.”

“I think I still have that effect,” Nick said wryly.

Her father laughed. Gina broke out of Lance’s embrace to give him a big hug. “Now maybe I’ll have someone to even out the odds around here,” she said. Her green eyes sparkled. “You can get outnumbered in family meetings.”

Alexa laughed. “He’s still a man, Gina. Trust me, he’ll take Lance’s side every time.”

   
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