Jessica Hart

Contracted: Corporate Wife

Release Date: 2005

Winner Romantic Novelists’ Association Romance Prize 2006

Patrick Farr is perfectly happy with his bachelor life, wining and dining beautiful young women. If only he could make them understand that he will never marry for love. Louisa Dennison is the perfect PA. She’s also a single mom, bringing up two very demanding kids! So when Patrick proposes, her answer is definitely no! Or is it? Patrick’s offer could answer Lou’s prayers – financial security for life. But will their attempts to avoid love lead them to exactly that?


LOU stared at him. ‘I wasn’t being serious!’

‘I know, but the more I think about it, the more sensible it seems.’

Sensible …? ‘Hang on,’ said Lou. ‘Is this a joke?’

‘If you’d had the week I’ve just had, you’d know I’m not in a joking mood,’ said Patrick. ‘It was a mistake taking Ariel on holiday, I can see that now. She took it to mean that I was ready for commitment. And you didn’t tell me that the Maldives were full of honeymooners,’ he added accusingly.

‘I’m not responsible for you knowing what anyone who’s ever picked up a holiday brochure knows,’ said Lou at her most crisp.

Patrick glowered. ‘It was a disaster. Ariel spent her entire time angling for an engagement ring. I told her that it wasn’t going to happen, but that didn’t stop her giggling about weddings with new brides and picking up tips about dresses and table decorations and what the best man ought to wear,’ he said with distaste.

‘I came home vowing that I was never going to get in that situation again. I’ve decided that the only way to convince girls that a relationship with me doesn’t involve any measure of commitment is to show them I’m already married.’

Lou could hardly believe what she was hearing. ‘You don’t think that’s taking your fantasy about sex without a relationship a bit far?’ she asked acidly.

‘Why? It would make the point, wouldn’t it?’

She shook her head in disbelief. ‘Why would you want to get involved with a woman who was prepared to sleep with a married man?’

‘But that’s the whole point,’ said Patrick impatiently. ‘I don’t want to be involved. I’m not interested in anything beyond a purely physical relationship. I always make that clear anyway, but maybe they would believe me if they knew I had wife in the background.’

‘There is such a thing as divorce, you know,’ said Lou, exasperated. ‘What’s to stop these poor deluded girls hoping that you’ll fall in love with them and leave your wife?’

Patrick thought for a moment. ‘I’ll tell them that I’ve signed a pre-nuptial contract so my wife gets seventy percent of my assets if there’s a divorce.’

Lou goggled at him. ‘It might even be worth marrying you for that!’ she said, still half convinced that he was joking.

‘I’m serious,’ said Patrick. He came back to sit opposite her and folded his hands on the desk. ‘I’m offering you the chance of a life where you never have to worry about money again. All I ask in return is that you be a visible wife, that you’ll help with corporate entertaining and play the convincing part of a wife in front of my business associates – and my mother and sisters,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘It’s true that you’re not absolutely ideal,’ he went on, apparently unaware of Lou’s expression of growing outrage. ‘You’re certainly not the kind of wife I ever envisaged for myself,’ he admitted, ‘and it’s a pity that you’ve got children. I don’t see myself as a step-father, but I expect that we could work something out.’

There was always boarding school, he thought to himself.

‘I don’t see why we’d need to have that much to do with each other,’ said Patrick, dismissing that objection. ‘So while you’re not exactly what I want, you have got other advantages to off-set that, especially your knowledge of the business, as you pointed out yourself. And being older means that you’re mature enough to understand that marriage would be a purely practical arrangement on both sides. And of course, you’ve got more of an incentive than most,’ he finished. ‘You need the money.’

‘Not that much,’ said Lou distinctly. Now she knew how Elizabeth Bennett had felt when Mr Darcy had insulted her family and her connections and then tossed a proposal of marriage her way.

She got to her feet.

‘Where are you going?’ asked Patrick, taken aback.

‘Back to work.’

‘But what about my proposal?’

‘Oh, that was a proposal, was it?’ said Lou in her most sarcastic voice. ‘I didn’t realise an answer was required.’

‘Of course I want an answer,’ said Patrick crossly. What did she think, he was just having a chat?

‘Oh, OK.’ Lou put her head on one side and pretended to think about it for an insultingly short time. ‘No.’

‘No?’ He was outraged.

‘No,’ she repeated firmly. ‘As proposals go, that one sucked! There’s absolutely no question of me marrying you, Patrick. You’d better find someone else to solve your commitment problem, because it’s certainly not going to be me!’

Patrick got to his feet too. ‘Just a minute, this was your idea,’ he said angrily.

‘I can’t believe you took me seriously,’ said Lou, just as angry. Angrier, in fact, and getting more and more angry the more she thought about it. ‘I’d been guzzling champagne all evening, for heaven’s sake! Of course I wasn’t serious!’

‘You were pretty persuasive!’

‘I certainly wouldn’t have been if I’d known you were going to take a joke and use it to insult me!’

‘I’ve just asked you to marry me,’ said Patrick, livid by now. ‘How is that insulting you?’

‘What kind of woman do you think I am?’ she demanded furiously. ‘Do you really think I’d marry a man I don’t love, a man I don’t even like very much, just for his money? A man who tells me outright that he can’t be bothered with my children, a man who doesn’t really want me at all or find me that attractive but thinks I’ll do and that I’m desperate enough to agree?

‘I’ve got to tell you, Patrick, that I find that pretty insulting,’ she told him. ‘I mean, I’ve heard of some insensitive proposals in my time, but yours has to take biscuit!’

‘What was I supposed to do, go down on one knee and wrap it up in a lot of romantic clap-trap? Don’t tell me you expected me to tell you I loved you?’

Lou drew in a sharp breath. ‘I expected you to treat me with some respect,’ she said in an arctic accent.

‘I was being honest!’ he protested.

‘Oh, yes, you were honest all right. You made your position crystal clear. You think you can buy me the way you can buy all the other women in your life. Well, I may not have a lot of money, but I’m not for sale!’

Patrick struggled to control his temper, not very successfully. ‘Listen, it was you who were so full of what a perfect wife you’d be and what a good thing it would be for you if you married me. It would be your fantasy, you said.’

‘I can assure you that a proposal like that has never figured in a fantasy of mine,’ said Lou, her voice still glacial. ‘I’ve already been told by one husband that I’m not really the kind of wife he wanted,’ she added bitterly. ‘I can do without another husband thinking the same thing. And if you think I’m going to expose my children to the kind of attitude that treats young women as objects, and women over forty as past their sell-by date, you’ve got another think coming!

‘Your mother’s right,’ she swept on, too consumed by hurt and anger to care about her job any more. ‘You are selfish. You think that because you’re rich, you can have whatever you want, and never have to give anything in return. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not a lesson I want Grace and Tom to learn. They’ve got few enough role models as it is, and I’m certainly not going to provide them with one of such monumental selfishness!’

‘I never suggested not giving you anything in return,’ Patrick ground out. ‘I was proposing to give you quite a lot of money, if you remember.’

‘I’m not talking about money,’ said Lou contemptuously. ‘I’m talking about feelings.’

‘Oh, feelings!’ he sneered.

‘Yes, those things you don’t have and the rest of us do. You go on and on about how your girlfriends hassle you about commitment, but have you ever thought what it’s like for them to be with you and get their emotions thrown back in their faces all the time?’

‘Listen, nobody’s forcing them. If they don’t want to go out with me, they can say no.’

‘Yes, well, I’m saying no too,’ said Lou. ‘I want my children to believe that it’s possible for adults to live together in a loving relationship. They’re not stupid. They’re not likely to find that very convincing if they saw you carrying on with your … floozies … and treating me as a housekeeper, only coming home whenever it suits you.’

Patrick raked his hands through his hair in frustration. ‘You might want to think some time about exposing your children to the realities of life,’ he bit out. ‘All those romantic ideals aren’t going to be much use to them when they get out into the big, bad world and realise that nothing is free. If you want anything, you have to work for it, one way or another. Why should marriage be any different?’

‘Because unless it is different, there’s no point in getting married!’ Lou exploded. ‘It shouldn’t be about who gets what, it should be about sharing.’

Tears of sheer anger, and more than a little hurt, were perilously close. She turned for the door. ‘I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression in Newcastle. I had hoped that you would be able to forget that conversation. I’ll certainly try to forget this one,’ she said in a freezing voice.

‘If that’s what you want,’ said Patrick, equally icy.

‘I’ll let you have these letters to sign as soon as I’ve done them,’ said Lou coolly and went out, closing the door carefully behind her.

As soon as she had gone, Patrick vented his feelings on his chair, something which hurt him a lot more than the chair. He couldn’t believe that she had said no and walked out like that. Not once had he considered that she would turn him down. He was Patrick Farr and he always got what he wanted.

Until now.

He raged silently as he hopped around, nursing his sore foot. How dare Lou talk to him like that! He had offered her a solution to all her problems, and he would have been generous. Did she have any idea what she was giving up?

Well, if she didn’t want to marry him, that was fine, he told himself. It was probably a good thing. He could have done without the last few humiliating minutes, but he’d be perfectly happy to carry on his life as before. He wasn’t the one who had lost the chance to change his life. Oh, no, he wasn’t going to be the one with the regrets.

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