The Marriage Bargain
by Jennifer Probst
Published by Gallery Books
Book 1 in the Marriage to a Billionaire Series
A marriage in name only…
To save her family home, impulsive bookstore owner, Alexa Maria McKenzie, casts a love spell. But she never planned on conjuring up her best friend’s older brother—the powerful man who once shattered her heart.
Billionaire Nicholas Ryan doesn’t believe in marriage, but in order to inherit his father’s corporation, he needs a wife and needs one fast. When he discovers his sister’s childhood friend is in dire financial straits, he’s offers Alexa a bold proposition.
A marriage in name only with certain rules: Avoid entanglement. Keep things all business. Do not fall in love. The arrangement is only for a year so the rules shouldn’t be that hard to follow, right?
The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst is the first book in her Marriage to a Billionaire series, and centers around Alexa McKenzie, a local bookstore owner, and Nicholas Ryan, a billionaire who happens to be Alexa's best friend's brother. When Alexa finds out her parents are going to lose their family home, she is devastated, and in her desperation to find a solution to help them (and herself), she casts a love spell. Asking for the man of her dreams, and the money to help her save her home. She doesn't expect for the spell to conjure up her best friend's brother. For one, he doesn't check off any of her wants for a partner, other than having money to help her. But as it turns out, he finds himself with need of a wife, due to a clause in his fathers will that states he must be married to inherit the company. A deal is struck: she gets the money she needs to help her parents keep their home, and he gets a wife in name only for the period of one year. But despite being completely opposite of what they thought they wanted in a partner, can they actually avoid falling in love?
So I needed a palate cleanser from all the fantasy romance I have been reading lately, and so I decided to dig deep. Dig far back into my TBR, so something contemporary that has been sitting there a long time, AND it needed to be kindle unlimited, because all my money is going to limited edition luxe books at the moment. So I picked this one. Did I enjoy it? Yeah. There were moments it made me smile, and I even wept at one point. Did I love it? No. Case is point, when I noticed the rest of the series is not on kindle unlimited, I wasn't enticed to buy the rest of the series. While curious how the next couple would play out, I wasn't curious enough.
There were things I really liked about this book, and things I didn't. I hated the whole love spell thing. I'm still not clear if she really believes in magic, and thought it would work, or if it was just a silly little thing she did. If she thought it was real magic, that doesn't really fit into the narrative of the story. If she meant it as just a ridiculous, fun thing to do, it would have made sense to do it with a friend of two, with perhaps some drinks. Kind of like in Friends when Phoebe talks Monica and Rachel into a ritual and burning their exes shit. Aside from that, it was good. Perhaps predictable and cliché, but I'm not expecting much from these types of books. I liked the chemistry between Alexa and Nicholas. I liked their childhood interactions, and how it affected their connection as adults. I liked that neither of them were what they would have chose for a partner. Opposites attract are fun. I liked the problems, even if his didn't make a whole lot of sense (I will never understand the trope that requires marriage to inherit something.) One of the things I appreciated was the fact that neither of them had a perfect family. While Alexa's parents are sweet, and good parents, there were problems with their marriage that caused their financial distress. His family I felt was the typical cold hearted bastards you expect from these billionaire main characters - but again, I wasn't expecting much.
I think if you love the whole billionaire trope, and a marriage of convenience, you will enjoy this book. It's good.
She narrowed her eyes.
Alexa: “I see you’re the same overbearing bully who teased me about my chest size. Some things don’t change.”
He focused his attention on the dip of her dress.
Nick: “I guess you’re right. Some things remain the same. Others keep expanding.”
Her breath caught at the jab, but she surprised him when she smiled.
Alexa: “And other things remain small.”
Her pointed stare settled directly on the bulge in the center of his pants. Nick: “I suck at it? You’re acting like this is some stupid play you’ve put together for the neighbors. This is real life, and I’m doing the best I can.”
Alexa: “My plays were not stupid. We made a lot of money in admission tickets. I thought Annie was excellent.”
Nick: “You can’t even sing and you cast yourself as Annie.”
Alexa: “You’re still pissed because I wouldn’t let you play Daddy Warbucks.”
He plowed ten fingers through his hair and made a noise deep in his throat.
Nick: “How the hell do you get me on these ridiculous subjects?” This was no cool sophisticate he could control. This was a full-blown Eve, who dared a man to Hell and made a poison apple seem as sweet as candy. Michael: "A woman like you should have a husband watching at all times. Such a treasure could be stolen at any moment.”
Alexa: “Ah, but if I were a true treasure, I wouldn’t be stolen easily. Certainly not by the first line thrown at me.”
He pretended offense.
Michael: “Signorina, I would never insult you by thinking it would not be a long treasure hunt. You’d require a lot of work.” Maggie: “Is something else going on with you two? You’re not attracted to him, are you?”
Alexa forced a laugh.
Alexa: “I hate your brother.”
Maggie: “You’re lying. I always know when you lie. You want to sleep with him, don’t you? Oh, yuck!” Maggie snickered and stretched both of her legs out on the floor. Her back was propped up against the side of the chair. Her green eyes held the teasing light of a younger sister who still enjoyed torturing her older brother.
Maggie: “Still having cravings, Nick? Bet I could bum one for you.”
Nick: “Thanks. It’s always nice to have a family member as your drug pusher.”
Alexa: “You smoke?”
Nick shook his head.
Nick: “Used to. Quit years ago.”
Maggie: “Yeah, but when he gets stressed or upset, he regresses. Do you believe he doesn’t think it counts as long as he doesn’t buy?” Alexa: “Being the clearheaded, reasonable man you’re supposed to be, you should have pushed Gabriella away and honored the contract. Instead, you made out with her in public, at the river, with your tongue in her mouth and your hands on her body. This is my clearheaded, reasonable response to your betrayal, you son of a bitch. Enjoy your dessert.” Alexa: “Damn it, are you going to sit there and look at me all night or are you going to do something?”
He gave a low chuckle. That full lower lip twitched. He hooked one leg around hers and moved over her in one quick motion. Hip to hip, thigh to thigh. Every muscle pressed against hers. Each delicious inch of his arousal cradled between her legs. He worked the pins from her hair and combed through the strands so the waves tumbled over her shoulders. Then he dipped his mouth and nipped at her earlobe, teased the tip of his tongue against the delicate shell of her ear, then blew out a warm stream of breath. She jumped. He laughed and whispered against her temple.
Nick: “I intend on doing something. I’ve thought about looking at you for so long, I figured I’d indulge. But it looks like you also have a temper in bed, so I’ll move it along.”
Nick: “Not now, Alexa. I’m busy.” She shuddered with pure need as she felt him retreat one precious inch.
Alexa: “No, I just, I need—”
Nick: “Tell me.”
A fine sheen of tears filmed over, her emotions raw and easy for him to read.
Alexa: “I need you to want me. Only me. Not—”
Nick: “Oh, Jesus.”
He closed his eyes. Alexa watched sheer agony ripple over his face. He stopped at her entrance and bent to kiss her. He tenderly mated his tongue with hers, stroking, tracing the swollen flesh of her lips in an action that bespoke pure humbleness. And when he opened his eyes and looked into hers, she sucked in her breath as he finally let her in, let her see it all, and gave her what she needed. The truth.
Nick: “It’s always been you. I don’t want anybody else; I don’t dream about anybody else. It’s only you.” Nick wondered what would happen if he burst into tears. The horror of the situation hit him full force, and he realized he had no choice or Taylor would pee her pants and tell on him and then he’d be in real trouble. Nick: “Uh, Taylor?”
Nick: “Don’t forget the ice cream is a secret, remember? Just between you and me.”
She nodded seriously.
Taylor: “Emily and me have lots of secrets together. But we can’t tell anybody.”
He nodded with satisfaction.
Nick: “Exactly. Secrets aren’t told to anybody.”
Someone knocked on the door.
Alexa: “Nick, are you in there?”
Nick: “Go away, Alexa, we’re fine. Be out in a minute.”
Taylor: “Auntie Al, guess what?”
Taylor: “I got ice cream!”
Nick closed his eyes. Leave it to a female to break your heart. Alexa: "Oh, one more thing.”
Alexa: “I am incredibly turned on right now and will show you exactly how much when we get home.”
Astonishment cut through him.
Nick: “You’re playing with me.”
She gave him an open-mouthed, curl-your-toes, drop-dead, tongue-to-tongue kiss. Then pulled away with a sly smile.
Alexa: “No. But I’ll be certain to play with you later.” Nick: “It’s always been you.”
He paused as if to be sure she heard and understood the words. Intensity gleamed within amber depths. He gripped her fingers, as if trying to speak beyond words.
Nick: “And it will always be you.” Alexa: "I need more NyQuil.”
He settled the tray of liquids including chicken soup, water, and juice beside her.
Nick: “Hell, no, not with the antibiotics and codeine cough syrup. The doctor warned me. No more nasal spray, either. I read an article about it.”
Alexa: “I want my mother.”