Jessica Hart

Business Arrangement Bride

Release Date: 2006

Tyler Watts is rich, gorgeous and at the top of his game – except someone has just moved the goalposts! Now Tyler realizes he is sorely lacking the one status symbol that everybody seems to have … the perfect wife and family.  Tyler needs help, so he hires a relationship coach.

Single mom Mary is out of her depth with Tyler … she may be an expert, but not when it comes to her own relationships! And every day she spends with Tyler makes her wish that she could be the one to fill his vacancy for a wife …

Excerpt

She was just putting on some lipstick when she heard the crunch of tyres on gravel. It was dark by then, but the light pouring out of the downstairs windows was enough for her to see a silver Porsche park next to her battered old car. The next moment, Tyler got out and strode towards the door, disappearing out of Mary’s sight.

There was the sound of the door closing and then silence. No call to find out where she was, or if she was all right. No honey-I’m-home. If Tyler was anxious to see that she had arrived safely, he was concealing it very well.

Mary’s lips tightened. It was nearly half past eight and she had been here four hours. Stalking out onto landing, she leaned over the elaborate balustrade. Tyler had found the letters waiting for him on the magnificent marble table in the hall, and was leafing through them, apparently unaware of his duties as a host.

He must have heard her, because he glanced up. ‘Oh, there you are, he said, pushing the letters together and turning towards the room Mrs Palmer had pointed out as his study. ‘I just need to make a couple of calls, then I’ll be with you, OK?’

‘No,’ said Mary.

Tyler stopped, looking up over his shoulder with a distracted frown. ‘No, what?’

‘No, it’s not OK,’ she said and came down the stairs towards him

‘What’s not OK?’ he asked, taken aback.

‘Your behaviour,’ said Mary succinctly.

‘My behaviour?’ he echoed incredulously. ‘I’ve only been in the house a matter of seconds! How can I have done something wrong in that time?’

Mary surveyed him coolly. ‘You weren’t here to greet me when I arrived,’ she told him, ‘which means that I’ve been hanging around for nearly four hours, waiting for you to deign to come home. Now you want to come in and ignore me while you finish your business!

Tyler ’s face tightened with exasperation. ‘You were the one who wanted to come out here,’ he pointed out.

‘And you agreed that the best way for you to learn about relationships was to pretend that we had one,’ said Mary, reaching the bottom step. ‘That relationship isn’t going to last long if you think a few phone calls are more important than making me feel welcome. How do you think a real girlfriend would feel if you disappeared into the study as soon as you arrived without bothering to say hello?’

‘I’m sure she would understand that I was probably busy,’ said Tyler. ‘As I am,’ he added meaningfully but Mary refused to take the hint.

‘I think it’s more likely that she would think you rude and unfeeling,’ she said. ‘Why would she want to marry a man who would treat her like that?’

Tyler ’s jaw clenched with the effort of keeping his temper. ‘Look, I’m only going to be five minutes,’ he said. What could be more reasonable than that?

‘That five minutes could be the kiss of death on your relationship,’ said Mary and he scowled.

‘Aren’t you being a little over-dramatic?’

‘ Tyler, do you want to learn how to have successful relationship with a woman or not?’ she asked through gritted teeth.

‘That’s why you’re here.’

‘Quite, so I suggest that you listen to what I’m saying! What’s the point of paying me to be your relationship coach if you’re not going to take my advice?’ she asked, exasperated. She put her hands on her hips. ‘Let’s start again. Imagine you’re in love with me,’ she ordered him. ‘Go on!’ she added as his jaw set in a stubborn line.

Tyler blew out an irritable breath, but turned obediently back to study her.

She looked different tonight, he realised, looking at her properly for the first time. Her hair was a soft cloud around her face, and she had abandoned that tight suit, and was wearing instead a floaty sort of skirt and a top with a plunging neckline that emphasised her generous cleavage. Beneath it she wore a lacy camisole, the discreet glimpse of which hinted deliciously at hidden delights, and made Tyler’s head spin suddenly with images of sexy lingerie and silk stockings.

He swallowed. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’m imagining.’

The odd thing was that the more he looked at her, the more he could imagine it. Not the whole being in love thing, obviously, but it wasn’t that difficult to imagine wanting to kiss her, wanting to discover if those lips were as sweet as they looked, wanting to unwrap that top and see what that lace was concealing …

‘I’m ready,’ he said, annoyed to find that his voice was a lot huskier than it should have been.

‘OK, now imagine how I feel,’ she told him. ‘We’re deeply in love, remember. We can’t keep our hands off each other, and I haven’t seen you since last night. I’ve spent all day looking forward to seeing you again. I’ve counted every minute.’

Getting into the part, she let a little wobble creep into her voice. ‘I’ve come out to see your home for the first time, but you’re not here to meet me when I arrive. I thought you loved me?’

Tyler was getting confused, not least by the way he couldn’t rid his mind of the picture of not being able to keep his hands off her. It was disturbing to realise quite how vividly he could imagine it right now.

‘I don’t love you,’ he said. He was on fairly sure ground there, surely?

Mary asked. ‘Not me, you idiot! We’re pretending, remember?’

‘Remind me why,’ he said, weary of all the confusion.

‘So that you can learn how to do it right when you come home to someone you really do love,’ she told. ‘Now I’m the love of your life, and I’m feeling disappointed and unloved. What can you do to make me feel better? And here’s a clue,’ she added, not without a certain sarcasm. ‘Disappearing into your study to make phone calls the moment you arrive is not the correct answer!’

Tyler rolled his eyes. ‘All right, I need to pay you - her! – a bit more attention when I come home.’

‘Exactly!’ said Mary, pleased that he had got the point at last. ‘I want to feel that you’ve been counting the hours too, that you’re thrilled to find me here, that you can’t wait to take me to bed …’ She paused, listening to her words echoing uncomfortably around the hall. ‘That is, I don’t want that, of course,’ she clarified carefully, ‘but if I was in love with you, I probably would.’

‘I see,’ said Tyler dryly, not entirely sure that he did, but unwilling to admit it, and distracted in any case by the idea of taking her to bed.

What would it be like to come home and find Mary waiting for him? he wondered. How would if feel if she were smiling, not criticising? If she opened her arms and let him kiss her? If he could run his hands over her warm curves, unwrap that top, slide off the silk and the lace, and pull her upstairs to his room, so that they fell together onto his bed, and he could lose himself in softness and her warmth?

‘Now go outside and do it again.’

Tyler gulped and jerked back to attention. ‘What? Do what?’ he asked distractedly.

‘Come in and greet me as if I’m the woman you want to marry,’ said Mary patiently. ‘Think of this as lesson one.’

‘I thought compromising was lesson one?’

‘OK, lesson two then,’ said Mary, rolling her eyes. ‘This time, though, you’ve got a practical test. You’ve got to show your girlfriend – that’s me – that you’re thrilled to see her.’

‘What am I supposed to say?’

‘Make me believe that you love me,’ she said. ‘Starting with an apology is always a good move, too.’

Still shaken by the vividness of fantasy, Tyler let her push him outside, where he took some deep breaths of the cool autumn air. It smelt of damp leaves and woodsmoke, and helped him pull himself together.

This was what he had wanted, he reminded himself. He had wanted practical advice on what to say and do in this kind of situation, and that’s what Mary was giving him. He just hadn’t counted on her being quite so distracting.

A few more breaths and Tyler had himself under control once more. This wasn’t difficult. He should treat it as a challenge, and go in there and show Mary exactly what he could do.

Pushing open the door once more, he saw Mary at the foot of the stairs, looking so warm and inviting that all Tyler’s fine speeches immediately went out of his head.

‘Mary …’ he said, and stopped, realising that his lungs had forgotten how to work.

‘Hi.’ She smiled and came towards him. ‘I was beginning to think you were never coming.’

Tyler managed to inflate his lungs. ‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ he said awkwardly. ‘You look … gorgeous,’ he said, and Mary paused for a moment.

‘That’s good,’ she said. ‘Very good, in fact.’

‘No, I mean it.’ Tyler stepped to meet her and took both her hands in his. ‘I’ve been thinking about you all day,’ he said. ‘I was thinking about that suit you wear, and thinking about taking it off you, and now I come home and find you looking wonderful, and I still want to take it off you.’

‘Yes, well, that’s fine,’ croaked Mary, trying, and failing, to tug her hands out of his, but Tyler ignored her.

‘I’ve been thinking about touching you all day,’ he said, his voice dropping until it seemed to reverberate in Mary’s very core. ‘I’ve been thinking about tonight, and how it’s going to be. Just you and me and a big bed.’

Mary gulped. ‘Um, Tyler, I think that’s probably –’ she began, managing to pull her hands away at last, but he had released them only so that he could take her by the waist and pull her towards him.

‘I’ve been thinking about this,’ he said, bending his head, and although Mary opened her mouth, she had no idea either then or afterwards of what she was going to say. And anyway, by then it was too late. Tyler’s lips came down on hers and he kissed her.

Mary’s heart seemed to stop with the shock and excitement that jolted through her at the first touch of his mouth. Her first thought was that Tyler was a great actor, her second that he was a great kisser and her third … Well, after the second she stopped thinking at all.

It was so long since she’d been kissed. She’d forgotten how good it felt to be held against a hard, male body, to have strong hands sliding over you, round you, to pull you closer. His lips were cool and firm and very sure on hers. They teased and tasted and tested her resistance, which wasn’t very strong, it had to be admitted.

There was something so seductive about being kissed like this. It was a game, a pretence, but shockingly intimate too, or that’s how it felt to Mary. It didn’t matter that Tyler Watts was practically a stranger, or that she didn’t even like him that much. Right now, he was just a man, and he was making her feel like a woman for the first time in a very long time.

Alternative covers: