Billionaires' Brides of Convenience, Book 8
An emotional standalone title featuring Blake Pryce-Reed.
One thing I’ve never lacked in life is money. I was born to it. I’ve made it hand over fist. I have more than I know what to do with.
But all that money couldn’t give me Faith Mortimer, a damaged heiress with secrets of her own. I found her irresistible two years ago, and would’ve laid my empire at her feet…until she betrayed me.
Now she barges into my office, offering marriage, ostensibly to help me fulfill the conditions of my father’s hateful deal. Although I toss her out, I’m curious. Once I realize how desperate she is, I make a counteroffer that leaves her vulnerable and defenseless.
However, I never counted on my own machinations leaving me exposed in return…and both our hearts are going to break before this is over…
I blink a few times, certain I’m hallucinating, but the pain throbbing in my lip isn’t enough to make me see things.
What’s he doing here? The last thing I want is for him to see my shabby studio apartment or me barefoot in a thin white shirt and cropped pants. I’m not even wearing a bra or makeup, for God’s sake.
It’s one thing to appear vulnerable because I chose to, but something else to be caught with my shields down. Especially when Blake is fully armored in an expensive suit that radiates money and power in expertly tailored lines.
Immediately my brain kicks in, and I try to shove the door shut. If he wants to talk, he can make an appointment like a normal human being.
But my strength is no match for his large, muscled body as he stiff-arms the door and casually strolls into the room. I inhale a whiff of something spicy and clean—the same scent that had me intoxicated with him when we first met—and steel my spine.
He stops in front of my coffee table, which is littered with bloody tissues. He frowns and spins around. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” I mutter, holding the paper towel to my mouth. “What are you doing here?”
Ignoring me, he reaches for the paper. I jerk back, but too slowly. He pulls away the towel. I turn my head, but he catches my chin in one strong, implacable hand and tilts it up and toward him so he can study my mouth. It half-throbs and half-tingles.
“What happened?” he asks again, like he cares.
And I hate it that he can sound this way after our disastrous talk. I much prefer his rude and entitled attitude. “None of your business. It doesn’t hurt and the bleeding’s stopped, so you can turn off the fake concern.”
His eyebrow twitches. “The bleeding hasn’t stopped.” His tone is mildly chiding, but it only gets my defenses up. The last time I took everything from him at face value, I ended up a heartbroken idiot at the end.
“It would have if you hadn’t snatched away my towel.”
“You need more.”
He drops his hand from my chin. I feel the absence of the touch keenly, and my annoyance at myself doubles. Here’s a man who told me to get on my knees three days ago. What the hell’s wrong with me? Surely, I have more self-respect than this.
He goes into what passes for my kitchen and opens the small fridge. It has only one door, and the inside is pitifully empty except for a few eggs and butter. He mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “what the fuck” under his breath.
My face flushes with embarrassment, although I’m not sure precisely why. It isn’t as though he can’t figure out my awful money situation. My entire apartment is smaller than his fancy office, and it only has two pieces of furniture—my sofa bed and the coffee table. I’m their fourth owner.
He pops a few ice cubes from a tray and wraps them in a fresh paper towel. “Press this to your mouth. It’ll help with swelling,” he says, his tone a bit too brisk.
I stare at his offering like it’s a rattlesnake. Actually a snake might be safer. When he quirks an eyebrow in silent challenge, I take it. I’ll be damned if I’ll give the impression that I’m uncertain and apprehensive in my own home.
The cold feels good. The throbbing in my lip subsides to a more manageable level, and I swallow a sigh of relief. I see him scan my place, undoubtedly cataloguing every flaw. The walls are empty, and the carpet’s so thin the floor might as well be bare. At least it’s clean, which is purely due to pride. I may live in a crappy place, but I won’t let it become a pigsty.
I spread my feet shoulder width apart and distribute my weight. Contrary to what negotiation experts say, I know having this encounter in my home confers me zero advantage. It’s more of a liability because it reveals how little I have compared to him.
But maybe I can turn it to my advantage anyway. As long as I don’t talk about Mom, he’ll see I have very little to lose.
“Why didn’t you go to Benedict?” Blake asks suddenly.
I blink. “Benedict?”
“Don’t play dumb.”
So he knows about my relationship with that man. “I’d rather die.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Whatever he wants from you can’t be as bad as…this.”
I snort. Maybe someone like him doesn’t think it’s a big deal to cast aside his dying mother, but I do. I’ll never give her up for Benedict’s billions.
Blake’s hand sweeps around my place. “This is a huge downgrade from your place in Vegas, not to mention the penthouse you shared with Jack in Hong Kong. You don’t have to live like this to stick it to your grandfather.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I know you’re suffering unnecessarily.”
I roll my eyes. He’ll never understand. “I’m not discussing him with you. I have no idea what you’re doing here, but if you’re here to tell me you’re in the neighborhood, think again. It won’t work.”
“I came by to see you.”
“And maybe get a friendly neighborhood blow job? Sorry, not gonna happen.”
A hint of amusement gleams in his eyes; then he blinks and it’s gone. “Hemorrhage isn’t exactly a turn-on.”
“Isn’t it? Could have fooled me.”
“Whatever you want to talk about, I’m not interested. I’m tired, and I don’t appreciate people barging into my home.”
He leans against the wall, his limbs relaxed. His hooded eyes show nothing. “I’ve decided you’ll do.”
It takes me a moment to register what he just said. “What?”
“Your proposal. Surely you haven’t forgotten?”
“Whatever happened to getting on my knees?” Because if that’s the condition of this ridiculous…change of heart, I’m going to disabuse him of the notion.
He waves it away. “You happen to be the lowest cost provider.”
I stop for a second, then laugh. Of all the things I imagined… “So, just like that? You don’t even know what I’m going to want in return.”
“Money, of course.” His gaze sweeps around my place, then lingers on my body. “A hundred thousand in cash seems like a fair price.”
“The portrait you’re going to get is worth millions.”
“So? You aren’t worth millions. Like I said, I can always go to someone else.”
I clench my hand. What wouldn’t I give to bloody his nose. But that would solve nothing. My PI failed to come through with Jordan, and as insulting as it is, a hundred thousand will take care of the immediate problem: ensuring that Mom gets the best care until… My breath catches, and I can’t continue the thought.
“Cash, upfront, you pay the tax,” I counter.
“No on upfront. How do I know you won’t take the money and run?”
“I’m a woman of my word.”
“Your word.” A small muscle in his cheek tics once. “When you disappeared, as I recall, it was without a word.”
If he thinks it’s a clever barb, he’s wrong. “Only when the situation warrants it.”
“Half upfront. Cash. I’ll handle the tax since you obviously can’t handle money.” Blake gives me a cool stare. “And you’ll move in with me immediately.”
“No. I’m perfectly happy where I am.” Away from you.
“You can’t be serious.” He gestures vaguely at my studio apartment. “This is a dump.”
“It’s my dump, and I like it.”
“Lies are best if they’re at least somewhat believable. Besides, regardless of how you feel about this place, appearances need to be maintained. I won’t tolerate a separate living arrangement.”
“Then it’s going to cost you extra.”
“Is that how you’re going to play this?”
“Tolerating your presence day in, day out does require commensurate compensation.”
He laughs. “A lot of women would pay me to spend time with them.”
“Yes, well… I have better taste.”
He considers. “An extra fifty thousand?”
I nod jerkily, surprised at how easy that was.
“Anything else you want extra payment for?”
I ignore his sardonic tone. “I’ll live with you, but I want a separate bedroom. No sex.”
“Is sex extra too?” he mocks openly.
“Five hundred dollars minimum per session,” I respond, unable to be a mature adult.
He sputters. “I’ve never paid for sex.”
“You’re the one who wanted the lowest cost provider. Surely you weren’t expecting full service.”
“I’m not going to live like a monk, Faith. And you have needs.”
“I don’t expect you to,” I say, ignoring his remark on my needs. That’s what vibrators are for, but my toys will not be a topic of our conversation. Ever.
“I expect fidelity,” he says darkly.
“I don’t, but don’t worry—I won’t sleep around and cause you embarrassment. The only thing I ask is you have the courtesy to stay away from me on the days you take care of your…needs.”
He stares at me, but I can’t decide if he’s shocked or angry or both. I forge ahead before I lose my courage. “I also don’t want to meet your family…or friends.”
“You will accompany me to social functions, Faith. That’s non-negotiable.”
“Once a month then, no more. And you can’t make it up if you miss one.”
“Any other stipulations?” he asks dryly.
“You can set any wedding date you want, but I prefer that it be in the next thirty days and my payment immediate upon the ceremony.”
“How are we going to have a ceremony if you don’t want to meet my family or friends?”
“There’s this thing called a courthouse. The marriage is only for a year, so there’s no need for anything extravagant.” I quirk a corner of my mouth up. “I’m the lowest cost provider, remember?”
His expression shifts. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s almost sad. “You’ve changed.”
He pushes off the wall. “My lawyer will draft an agreement.”
“Good. You know my address.”
“I’ll be in touch.”
He lets himself out.
Breathing shakily, I plop down on the sofa. I got almost everything I wanted from the deal, including the money I need, but I can’t help but feel I didn’t come out victorious.