The Marriage Bargain(7)

By: Jennifer Probst

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?”


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?”


“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?”

She looked a bit nervous as she shot him a glance, then rose from the chair and began pacing the room. His focus switched to her perfect rear end, swinging back and forth, and his zipper strained in discomfort.

His last fleeting rational thought skipped past his vision. Cut your losses here and now and walk out the door. This woman is going to turn your life upside down, diagonal and sideways, and you’ve always hated the fun house.

Nick fought the sudden surge of fear and waited for her answer.

Ah, hell.

Why did he have to be so damned gorgeous?

She snuck a glance at him as she paced. A vulgar curse rose to her lips but she forced it back down. Growing up, she used to sneer and call him Pretty Boy because of his golden hair. Those youthful curls had been tamed into a short, conservative cut, but some unruly strands fell across his brow in stubborn rebellion. The colors had deepened with time, but reminded her of Chex mix cereal, ranging from honey blond to wheat. His features had hardened—his jaw now slightly chiseled. Perfect white teeth flashed at her during that brief smile. His eyes were the same deep chestnut, and veiled secrets kept firmly locked behind a wall. But his body…

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