The marriage bargain, p.4
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       The Marriage Bargain, p.4

         Part #1 of Marriage to a Billionaire series by Jennifer Probst
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Page 4

 

  He’d always been active, but when he crossed the room the elegant fabric of his oatmeal colored pants moved and bent to his will, outlining long muscular legs and taut buttocks. The V-necked tan sweater was both casual and appropriate for the office on a Saturday.

  Some parts were totally inappropriate. The corded length of his arms. The broad shoulders and chest that stretched and molded the fabric. The deep bronze of his skin as if he had been lying in the sun for hours. The animal litheness of his movements. He had grown up, and he was no pretty boy. Nick Ryan was all hot-blooded man—and still looked at her as Maggie’s little playmate. When their eyes locked, there was no recognition, no appreciation. Just a distant friendliness afforded to someone from his past.

  Well, she’d be damned if she let her tongue loll out of her mouth just because he was attractive. His personality still sucked. The big B for Boring. The big D for Dull. The big…

  She pushed that thought out of her mind.

  Alexa hated the fact that his presence made her nervous and a bit giddy. One week ago, she’d cast a love spell, and Earth Mother had listened. She had her money and could save her family’s home. But what the hell had happened to her list?

  The man before her struck out on everything she believed in. This was no love match. No, this was business, pure and simple, and so very cold. While her memory of their first kiss dragged from the recess of her mind, she bet he’d forgotten the moment completely. Humiliation wriggled through her. No more. Would Earth Mother really not allow her the number one requirement on her list? She took a deep breath and spoke. “One other thing. ”

  “Yes?” he asked.

  “Do you watch baseball?”

  “Of course. ”

  Her stomach pitched with tension. “Do you have a favorite team?”

  He smirked. Literally smirked. “There’s only one New York team. ”

  Alexa fought past the nausea and asked the question. “Which one?”

  “The Yankees, of course. It’s the only team that wins. It’s the only team that matters. ”

  She took deep belly breaths, which she’d learned in yoga class. Could she marry a Yankees fan? Would she be giving up all her morals and ethics? Could she stand being married to a man who made logic his God and thought monogamy was a female thing?

  “Alexa? Are you okay?”

  She silenced him with one hand and paced, searching desperately for answers. If she walked out now, there was no other option but to sell the house. Could she live with herself, knowing she was too selfish to make a sacrifice for her family? Did she have a choice?

  “Alexa?”

  She spun on one heel. Impatience carved the lines of his face. This man had no tolerance for any emotional outbursts. As hot as he looked, he’d be one major pain in the ass, just as he had been growing up. He probably scheduled his days by the minute. He probably didn’t know what the word impulsive meant. Could they make a year of living in the same house? Would they rip each other apart before 365 days passed? And what if the Yankees went to the World Series this year? She’d have to deal with his lousy arrogance and patronizing smiles. Oh God…

  He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Don’t tell me. You’re a Mets fan. ”

  She shuddered at his tone. “I refuse to talk baseball with you. You will not wear any of your Yankees gear when you’re with me. I don’t care what you put on when I’m not around. Understand?”

  Silence settled over the room. She risked a glance in his direction. He stared at her as if her hair had sprouted Medusa snakes. “Are you kidding me?”

  She shook her head with gusto. “No. ”

  “I’m not even allowed to wear my Yankees cap?”

  “That’s right. ”

  “You’re insane,” he said.

  “Sticks and stones. Tell me now before we waste any more time. ”

  Then he did something she hadn’t seen since the neighborhood bully fell off his bike and burst into silly feminine tears.

  Nick Ryan laughed. Not a glimmer of amusement, or a smirk around the lips. This was a no-holds belly laugh, deep and masculine. The sound filled the room and pumped it with life. Alexa fought back her own smile, especially since his humor was directed at her. Damn, he looked good when he got off his high horse.

  He finally calmed, seemed to think the option over, and settled on a solution. “I won’t wear any Yankees gear, but the same applies to you. No Mets junk. I don’t even want to see a coffee mug or key chain lying around my house. Got it?”

  She simmered with annoyance. Somehow, the deal had been turned around on her. “I disagree. We haven’t won a Series since 1986, so I get to wear mine. You get enough glory—you don’t need any more. ”

  The corner of his lip twitched. “Nice try, but I’m not one of the Twinkies you’re used to dating. No Yankees, no Mets. Take it or leave it. ”

  “I don’t date Twinkies!”

  He shrugged. “I don’t care. ”

  She hopped from one foot to the other and barely managed to keep her hands from curling into fists. He was so damn detached. How could he look so tasty, yet remind her of the poison apple Snow White was offered?

  “Well? Do you want to sleep on it or whatever women do when they can’t make a decision?”

  She bit her lip, hard, and forced out the words. “Fine. You have a deal. ”

  “Anything else?”

  “I guess that covers it. ”

  “Not quite. ” He paused as if about to approach a delicate topic. Alexa swore she’d remain calm, no matter what he said. Two could play this game. She’d be an ice queen, even if he verbally tortured her. She took a breath and slid back into the chair, then picked up her coffee cup to sip at the brew.

  He steepled his fingers and took a breath. “I want to talk to you about sex. ”

  “Sex?” The word dropped from her lips and fired into the air like a gunshot. She blinked, but refused to show any change in expression.

  He jumped from his seat and they switched places, as he paced the luxurious burgundy carpet. “See, we need to be extremely discreet with, uh, our extracurricular activities. ”

  “Discreet?”

  “Yes. I deal with some very high-end clients, and I have a reputation to protect. Let alone the terms of the agreement would be broken if our marriage was questioned. I think it best if you agreed to remain celibate for the year. It’s doable, don’t you think?”

  “Or a lot of non-doing. ”

  He gave an obvious fake laugh and she wondered if she caught a gleam of sweat on his forehead or if it was just a trick of the light. He stopped pacing and watched her almost warily. Suddenly, the true meaning of his words caught fire in her brain and the lightning rod of knowledge sizzled. Nick wanted her to be the perfect wife, which included holding a chaste marriage bed under their ruse.

  But he hadn’t mentioned his own celibacy. Maggie had spilled all the details about Gabriella, so she knew Nick was involved in a relationship. Alexa still didn’t understand why he wouldn’t marry his girlfriend, but his choice wasn’t for her to judge. All she cared about was the chauvinistic, male pig before her and her desire to call the whole deal off.

  Almost.

  She shook with anger but kept her face serene. Nick Ryan wanted to cut deals. Fine. Because when she walked out this door, Nicky would sign the deal of a lifetime.

  She smiled. “I understand. ”

  His face practically lit up. “You do?”

  “Of course. If the marriage is supposed to be real, how would it look to find your wife the gossip of an affair so soon after the wedding?”

  “Exactly. ”

  “And you shouldn’t have to deal with humiliating questions regarding your manhood. If your wife is sleeping around, it’s obvious what the problem is. She wasn’t getting it good enough at home. ”

  He shifted his weight. His nod was half-hearted. “I guess. ”

  “So, what about Gabriella?”
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  He drew back in surprise. “How do you know about her?”

  “Maggie. ”

  “Don’t worry about Gabriella. I’ll take care of her. ”

  “Are you sleeping with her?”

  He flinched, then tried to pretend he didn’t care. “Does it matter?”

  She lifted her hands in defense. “I want to clarify the sex issue. At least I’ve filled the number one and two spot. I sure as hell don’t love you, and we’re not attracted to one another. You’re saying if I want to have a rollicking one night stand, I can’t go for it. So, what are the rules for you?”

  Alexa pursed her lips and wondered how the man intended to get himself out of his freshly dug grave.

  …

  Nick stared at the woman before him and tried to swallow. Her smoky voice set off even smokier images of her naked and demanding and…rollicking. He bit off a curse and reached for more coffee, trying to buy some time. Her whole demeanor screamed sex. The innocence of youth had burned off and left behind a pure-blooded woman with pure-blooded needs. He wondered what kind of man satisfied those needs. He wondered how ripe her breasts would feel in his hands, or how her lips would taste under his. He wondered what she wore under the clinging red dress.

  “Nick?”

  “Hmmm?”

  “Did you hear me?”

  “Yeah. Sex. I promise you’ll never find yourself in an awkward situation. ”

  “So, you’re telling me you still intend to sleep with Gabriella?”

  “Gabriella and I are involved in a relationship. ”

  “But you won’t marry her. ”

  Tension snapped the air around them. He took a few steps away, desperate for some distance. “It’s not that kind of relationship. ”

  “Hmmm, interesting. So, you’re saying I can’t screw around because I don’t have anybody steady to screw around with. ”

  If ice cubes were available he would have sucked them down one by one. Her accusation made a strange heat rise to his skin. Her tone was mild. Her smile seemed easy and genuine. Nick felt poised on the edge of some female power trip, and he recognized he was on losing ground. He rallied for the upper hand.

  “If you had someone steady in your life, we’d work out the situation. But strangers are too dangerous. I can guarantee Gabriella knows how to keep a secret. ”

  She smiled then. A delicious, feminine smile that promised delights beyond imagination and promised it all to him. His heart stopped, paused, then went on beating. Fascinated, he waited for her next words.

  “No way, baby. ”

  He fought for concentration as her refusal slipped from that luscious mouth. “Pardon?”

  “No sex for me. No sex for you. I don’t care if it’s Gabriella or a stripper or the love of your damn life. If I don’t have any fun, you don’t. You’ll just have to get your kicks out of this very proper business marriage and build your buildings. ” She paused. “Get it?”

  He got it. Decided not to accept it. And realized this was game, set and match, and he needed to win. His smile promised compassion and understanding and the money she needed. “Alexa, I understand this doesn’t seem fair. But a man is different. Gabriella has a reputation to uphold, also, so you’ll never be put in a bad position. Do you understand?”

 
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