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Authors: Noelle Adams

Married by Contract

BOOK: Married by Contract
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Married by Contract

 

Noelle Adams

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright
© 2016 by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

One

 

At five-twenty in the morning, Jenn Castle
was running hard on her treadmill and talking on the phone through her
earpiece.

Yelling
on the phone.

It was supposed to be a quick, professional conversation, getting
confirmation on a few things from Jim, who was responsible for finances in her
company. Part of the difficulty might have been that she’d woken him by calling
so early in the morning, but part of it was certainly his fault, for not being
on top of things as much as he should.

When she realized she was raising her voice, she
intentionally toned it down, huffing and sweating from her forty minute
workout. She didn’t like to talk that way to the people who worked for her, but
patience had never been her strong suit.

“Okay, fine,” she gasped at last, after listening to a
two-minute, somewhat garbled apology. “We’ll talk about it first thing. When
will you be in?”

She frowned at his answer but managed not to complain about his
estimated arrival time. By eight, she would have already been working in her
office for two hours.

“Okay. Okay.” She gasped for air a few times. “Sorry about
waking you up.”

It wasn’t until she disconnected the call that she noticed
Nick was standing in the doorway of the room in their apartment they’d designated
the “workout room.” He had a mug of coffee in his hands, and he’d obviously
just gotten out of bed. His longish brown hair was a mess, his eyelids were
heavy, and he wore nothing but a pair of ratty flannel pajama pants that should
have been thrown out years ago.

He was watching her, his eyebrows arching in a very
particular way.

She scowled at him as she slowed down to an easy jog. She
needed to cool down so she could jump into the shower soon. “I was just talking
on the phone.”

Nick didn’t answer. Simply took a slow sip of coffee, his green-gray
eyes never leaving her face.

“I wasn’t working,” she continued, since she knew how to
interpret that look. “A quick phone call doesn’t count.”

“If you say so.”

She’d been having tension headaches almost every day for
more than a year, and she’d finally gone to the doctor about them. She’d hoped
there would be a quick fix, but he’d insisted that the only way to really get
rid of them was for her to slow down at work and try to relax more.

Jenn wasn’t good at relaxing. She’d been raised by a
grandmother who’d had very little money, and she’d worked hard all her life. Her
grandmother had been a brilliant seamstress and had a habit of making beautiful
dresses for all the new babies in their small town. For her senior project in
college, Jenn had written a business plan for a company that would market and
sell those beautiful hand-made baby clothes. While she’d gotten her MBA, she’d
started working on building the company, and in a few years it was off the
ground. Using her grandmother’s dresses as inspiration, she’d hired designers
and seamstresses to make the clothes, and soon she’d had a lot of success in
the Midwest. In the last few years, she’d managed to even grow nationally, and
she wasn’t going to blow it all by taking it easy—not simply to get rid of some
headaches. But she’d agreed to try to keep her workday confined to between six
in the morning and six in the evening, except for a few necessary business
dinners.

Nick was aware of her new schedule, which was why he was
being so obnoxious at the moment.

She usually cooled down for a little longer, but she didn’t
want Nick to keep staring at her that way, so she slowed to a walk and then
switched the machine off. “I’ve got to take a shower.”

Nick didn’t answer. He also didn’t move.

When Jenn reached the doorway, she widened her eyes, since
he was blocking her way out of the room.

He took another swallow of coffee. Dark bristles were
visible on his finely cut jaw, and his eyelids were lower than ever. His bare
chest and broad shoulders were right in front of her eyes, since he was about
eight inches taller than her. He was what Jenn had always mentally called one
of those “hairy guys,” since there was nothing waxed or unnatural about him. He
had obvious hair on his chest and his arms and his legs. He perpetually needed
to shave and get a haircut. Even his eyelashes were longer than they should
have been.

She normally liked men who were better groomed, but for some
reason, gazing at him now, Jenn couldn’t help but recognize how sexy and
masculine he was, standing there half-dressed in the doorway.

She quickly pushed that thought out of her mind, since that
had never been Nick’s place in her life.

“You’re the one who has to smell me,” she said blandly, “as
I stand here needing to shower.”

He gave a husky chuckle and finally moved out of the way,
and ridiculously Jenn was in a better mood as she headed to her bathroom to get
ready for the day.

***

Twenty-five minutes later, she
rushed out of her room, buttoning the jacket to her suit, straightening her
skirt, and mentally rehearsing her morning at the same time.

Their apartment was an expensive loft in downtown
Minneapolis, with a view of the city skyline and the river, and the kitchen was
along one wall, open to the great room. Nick was there, leaning against the
granite counter, looking at something on his phone and still drinking coffee.
He hadn’t yet showered or dressed.

Jenn set down the jewelry she’d brought with her but hadn’t
had time to put on yet and then moved him out of the way so she could pull the
blender out of a cabinet.

“Why are you up so early today?” she asked.

He finally looked up from his phone. “I’ve got a job that
starts early.”

Nick had started his own business as a private investigator
about five years ago, after he’d gotten out of the Army. She assumed his
business was doing all right, since he always seemed to have jobs, but his line
of work wasn’t really a money-making operation. He never would have been able
to afford this apartment if he hadn’t been living with her.

“Need to take pictures of some cheating wife out for a
quickie first thing in the morning?” she teased, grabbing fruit, yogurt, milk,
and protein powder to dump into the blender.

When he didn’t answer, she glanced back at him. “Hey, sorry.
I was just joking. You know that.”

He gave her a lazy smile. “Sure. I wasn’t offended. I do
take pictures of cheating spouses sometimes.”

She checked his face as she whirled the blender. “That’s
fine then.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. When she’d stopped blending, he
asked, “Really? Because it sounded like you might rather not have a husband who
does such sleazy work.”

“What?” Her spine stiffened in genuine surprise. “I don’t
care what the hell you do.”

He must have read her sincerity because a tension in his
expression relaxed. “Okay. Just checking.”

“Why would you even think that?” she asked, momentarily
forgetting her smoothie and the fact that she was running late for work.

She and Nick had both grown up in the same small town in
Minnesota. He was a few years older than her, so they’d never been close
growing up, but she’d always known him to be a good guy. With his brains and
skills, he could have been hired by any number of lucrative security firms, but
he wanted to do his own thing instead. As a soldier, he’d been posted in some
of the most difficult places in the world, and he’d seen a lot of combat. She
knew it had taken an emotional toll on him. If the way he could best deal with
it was by easing through life now, never working too hard or taking anything
too seriously, then she could totally understand and would never pressure him
to do anything else.

“I don’t,” he said, looking more awake now than he had
earlier. “Not really.”

“It sounded like you did. I’m not some sort of snob.” She
didn’t know why she was so worried about this, but she was. “You can do
anything you want, as long as it makes you happy.”

He turned his back on her to refill his coffee. “Good.”

Staring at the smooth planes and rippling muscles of his
back, Jenn swallowed hard. “Nick?”

He turned around to meet her eyes. “What?”

“You are happy, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

“I mean, with everything. This marriage. Everything.”

He blinked. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t know, I just…something seemed strange just now. If
you want out, you need to tell me.”

“I don’t want out.”

“I know it hasn’t been five years yet, but I wouldn’t expect
you to repay any of the money. You don’t have to stick it out for two more
years if you don’t want.”

They’d negotiated a very complex contract for their five-year
marriage. One of the terms was that she would pay off the business loan Nick
had taken out to set up his private investigation practice, but he’d have to
pay back a percentage to her if the marriage didn’t last the full five years.
She hadn’t known him very well back then, and she’d wanted to protect herself
from having him walk out on her with his loans paid off.

She knew now that he’d never do something like that—to her
or anyone else.

“We could get divorced, and you could find a nice girl and
have a bunch of babies with her, if you want.”

“Damn it, Jenn.” His jaw tightened and his shoulders
stiffened. “I just told you. I don’t want out. Stop imagining things.”

“Okay.” She was a little hurt by his tone but mostly
relieved that he didn’t want to end their unconventional arrangement.

Three and a half years ago, they’d run into each other in
their hometown, both of them back paying visits. They’d been bored, so they’d
decided to go for a drink. Jenn had complained about how she’d hit some kind of
glass ceiling with the conservative, traditional buyers she worked with—not
because she was a woman but because she was single and didn’t have a domestic
image that matched her company’s baby clothes. Nick had complained that he’d be
in debt until he was eighty.

By the end of the evening, they’d come up with this crazy idea.
She couldn’t even remember who had first suggested it, but it was definitely
her who had carved out the basic details of the arrangement. It was working
wonderfully for her—they got along well most of the time and generally left
each other alone otherwise—and she actually liked having Nick around.

She’d miss him if he was gone.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” she repeated.

His mouth twitched up just slightly. “Your smoothie is
melting.”

She gasped and whirled around to pour her not-quite-as-thick
smoothie out of the blender and into an insulated cup. “Look at the time!”

“Just because you’re not at work at six in the morning
doesn’t mean you’re late.”

“I’ve got a lot to do today.” She scowled down at the lid
she was trying to screw onto her cup.

Nick picked up the necklace she’d left on the counter and
took a step forward to place it on her neck and then clasp the back of it for
her. “You always have a lot to do.”

“That’s kind of my point.”

“Well, don’t complain to me about your headache if you work
past six this evening and get all stressed out.”

“I’m not going to have a headache.” She managed to get her
earrings in and then looked down at herself to make sure she had everything on.
Dark gray stylish suit with a pencil skirt. Designer heels. Jewelry. Everything
seemed to match and be properly fastened, so she grabbed her smoothie. “See you
tonight.”

Before Nick could even answer, she was running out the door.

***

At after eight that evening, Jenn
was just getting back from work. She had a terrible headache.

She vaguely hoped Nick wouldn’t be home. He often was
working or hanging out with friends in the evenings. If he wasn’t here, he
couldn’t say, “I told you so.”

As soon as she stepped in, however, she knew he was home.
She could hear the television on, and she could smell something delicious.

Nick liked to cook, and he usually made a good dinner at
least a few times a week. Jenn followed the scent toward the kitchen, where he
was standing over the stove, stirring something in a pot.

“Hey,” she said, trying to sound cheerful, although it felt
like her entire head was being squeezed in a vice. “That smells good.”

He glanced at her over his shoulder and just shook his head soberly.

How the hell did he always know when she had a headache?
She’d thought her expression had been perfectly normal.

She slumped down on a stool at the kitchen bar and rubbed
her aching head.

He’d made some sort of pasta dish with chicken, sausage, and
vegetables. He plated up some and handed it to her. Then he poured her a glass
of the Chardonnay he’d opened.

She mumbled her thanks and took a bite. “It’s really good.”

“Good.” He took his own plate and wine and sat on the stool
beside her.

She tried to focus on the football game on TV and ignore the
pain in her head. “Who’s winning?”

“Don’t ask.”

“That bad, huh?”

They ate in silence, both of them watching the large
television above the fireplace that was visible from the kitchen. Jenn tried to
relax, breathe deeply, and clear her mind from all stressful things, but she
wasn’t feeling any better when she finished her meal and glass of wine.

“Damn it,” she muttered, making a disgusted face when the
opposing team made another touchdown. “They’re terrible this year. I can’t even
watch.”

“Me either.” Nick flipped the television off with the remote
that had been left on the bar.

Jenn picked up both of their plates and carried them to the
sink. Then she refilled her glass and offered some to Nick.

“No. I’m fine. And more wine isn’t going to help your
headache, you know.”

She scowled, feeling worse than ever and now annoyed with
him for recognizing it. “It’s not too bad this evening.”

BOOK: Married by Contract
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