Heiress Alexia Slater entered into a marriage of convenience straight out of high school to gain control of her inheritance before her not-so loving family squandered the whole thing. She doesn't want the marriage to be real-she's fought hard for her independence-but that hasn't stopped her from spending the last five years fantasizing about her gorgeous husband.
Then he shows up.
Josh wants an annulment. Lexi needs to stay married. When the chemistry explodes between them, there's no stopping the battle of wills only one of them can win...
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Her Fantasy Husband
A Things to Do Before You Die Novel
By Nina Croft, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Nina Croft
All rights reserved.
On days like today, Lexi Slater was glad she was her own boss.
Her desk was covered with a gargantuan pile of stuff, along with every other surface in her office. She had nothing on her schedule until her afternoon meeting with the Wildlife Trust people, and it was still an hour until lunch. She could clean up.
Really, what was the point? It would only get messy again.
A sense of peace filled her. Her office was a mess and there was absolutely no one to complain about it. She kicked off her sandals, rested her bare feet on the desk — knocking off a pile of magazines in the process — and sat back.
The phone rang, and she reached under a pile of fabric samples — covers for the new beds at the rescue center — and picked it up.
"Lexi Slater here."
Sadie's voice came down the line, her tone hushed. "I know it's you, Lexi. I'm your assistant, and you'd know it's me if you let me clean your desk so you could actually see your phone."
"A clean desk is a sign of a ..." She was sure it was a sign of something.
"An organized mind?" Sadie suggested.
"Exactly, and who wants one of those?" She frowned. "Anyway, why are you phoning? And why are you whispering? Why not come in? I'm only through the door." There was a little silence. Something was wrong. "What is it?"
"There's someone here to see you."
"I'm not scheduled for any meetings."
Sadie's voice dropped even lower. "This is definitely not a scheduled meeting."
"Who is it?" Her mind ran over the list of possibilities.
"You're never going to guess."
"Sadie, I will fire you."
"No, you won't, because then I'd be jobless and poor and probably homeless as well. And more to the point, so would my cat."
Lexi sighed. Why had she employed Sadie? Oh, yes, because she'd been jobless and poor and living on the street. But honestly, while she loved her dearly, she was a crap assistant. "Tell me."
"I'm not sure if this is true, because really she looks nothing like you, but she says she's your grandmother."
The world stopped. No way. Then everything started moving super-fast. "Five minutes," she squeaked into the phone. "Just give me five minutes."
"I'll try," Sadie said drily.
Lexi leaped to her feet. She stared around the room for a moment in blind panic.
Oh. My. God. This wasn't happening. Her grandmother was supposed to be in New York. She hated leaving New York, hated coming to London, claimed the city held nothing but bad memories. It had been the only thing that had allowed Lexi's life to work over the last five years, the only way her marriage of convenience hadn't been exposed for the lie it was.
Old habits die hard — especially ones ingrained from childhood — and she stared around her in horror.
She has no control over you. She has no control over you.
She repeated the mantra in her head, but her insides churned like they were on a roller coaster.
Why was her grandmother here?
This can't be good.
Keep it together. She doesn't know anything. And she won't find out.
She opened the big bottom drawer in her desk and swiped everything off the surface and into it, then slammed it shut.
She opened the drawer again, scrabbled beneath the rubble, hooked her fingers on the pile of photographs at the back, and dragged them out.
For a second, she stared at the top photo — her and Josh on their fourth anniversary celebratory holiday. They'd visited the Seychelles for a wonderful romantic break in the sun. Actually, she'd gone trekking in Nepal on her own, but it was amazing what Photoshop could do.
She put the picture prominently on her desk and placed the others around the room. The wedding photo. She looked so young and sort of round. But she'd hated boarding school and had spent a lot of time comfort eating. Once away from there, she'd found other comforts. The first anniversary — she'd slimmed down a lot by then, thank God. The second and third anniversary photos. They always managed to go somewhere nice.
In my fantasies.
Okay, office sorted. She glanced down at herself. There was very little she could do there. Not in the time she had. Though actually, time was irrelevant. She'd always been a disappointment to her grandmother, especially in the looks department. In a family of tall, slender women, and tall, broad-shouldered men, Lexi was a misfit.
Swapped by the hospital.
Her evil stepsister had once told Lexi she'd overheard that little theory. Sometimes Lexi believed it to be true, except she'd seen pictures of her mother. While Lexi didn't have her tall, slim figure — total bummer — she did have her eyes and her dark red hair and freckles. Another mark against her.
She made do with tucking her hair behind her ears and wiping her sweaty palms down her jeans. She was plastering an inane smile on her face as the door opened — and there stood her grandmother. Unfortunately, not the round, cuddly, cookie-baking type of grandmother. Lexi doubted Grandmamma had ever baked anything in her life.
She was beautiful. Probably always would be. Age wouldn't change that; the beauty went right down to the bones. She'd once told a fourteen-year-old Lexi that good bone structure was the most important feature a woman could have. Lexi had spent many hours afterward prodding her plump cheeks, searching — in vain — for bones.
Grandmamma wore a Chanel suit and high-heeled pumps, her hair in a perfect chignon.
Lexi sighed and resisted the urge to fidget, which always wound her grandmother up. But what the hell was she doing here? And why did this woman still have the ability to turn her into a mindless moron? Pathetic. Insecure. A wimp.
She came to a halt just inside the room, her gaze sweeping over Lexi. "You're looking well, Alexia," she said.
"I am?" That seemed unlikely.
"Although, shoes would probably help."
She glanced down at her bare toes, curled against the hardwood floor. Where the hell were her shoes?
Her assistant cleared her throat. "Would you like some coffee?" Sadie asked.
Lexi dragged her attention from her feet and raised an eyebrow at her grandmother.
"No, thank you, Alexia. Your company is all I require."
Hmm, why did that send a ripple of unease down her spine? "Thank you, Sadie. You can close the door behind you."
Sadie's face dropped at being excluded from the fun. Lexi glared, and her assistant backed out, closing the door behind her.
When she returned her attention to her grandmother, she was at the desk, staring down at the photo of Josh. She picked it up and studied it with narrowed eyes.
Lexi's breath caught in her throat. She cleared it with a cough, the sound like thunder in the too-quiet room. "That was our fourth wedding anniversary," she mumbled. "We went to the Seychelles."
Her grandmother put the photo down. "I can't believe he has the time to take you on all these holidays" — she waved a hand at the other photos around the room — "and yet in nearly five years he has never found the time to visit your only family."
She licked her dry lips. "He's away so much. We just want to be together when he's free." It may be time for a little forward planning. "For our fifth we're thinking of re-affirming our vows. Josh has always hated it that we married in a registry office, but he couldn't wait. Now he thinks a beach in Mauritius."
Oh what a tangled web ...
She hated lying. If she did it for too prolonged a period, she came out in a rash.
"How ... romantic." Her grandmother pursed her lips. Romance was not high on her priority list. "He's a very handsome man, if a little ... rough around the edges. And when do you think the rosy glow will fade enough for the pair of you to come and visit us? Perhaps we could all have dinner together while we're in town."
Never going to happen.
"Unfortunately, you've just missed him. He left yesterday. He'll be out of the country for ... ages, but otherwise ..."
"Don't you want him to meet your family?"
"Of course I do." Not. "But he might feel a little out of place." She smiled. "As you said — he's a little rough. Not like you and Daniel." Daniel was her grandmother's fourth husband — they'd married when Lexi was eighteen — a New Yorker and one of the reasons Lexi had made the somewhat impetuous decision she had back then.
Her grandmother's eyes narrowed even further, studying Lexi with an intensity that made her twitch. "When are you going to give up this little hobby?" She waved a hand around the office.
Hardly a hobby. It was a registered charity with a turnover of millions of pounds. But Lexi just smiled sweetly.
When she didn't answer, her grandmother continued. "At some point you have to accept that you can't save the whole world. Or buy love."
Lexi's cheeks flushed, but she kept her smile fixed in place. She wasn't trying to buy love. Was she? She liked helping people, and she had the money, so why shouldn't she help them?
"Why not come back to New York?" Now her grandmother's tone was conciliatory, and Lexi wasn't buying it. "We'll hire you one of those personal trainers to get you in shape, and maybe introduce you to my personal shopper. You'll fit in — all it takes is a little effort."
Lexi gnashed her teeth. "I'll give it some serious consideration." Like hell she would.
Her grandmother gave her a sharp look. "It's time for you to forgive us, Lexi. When are you going to admit that we only wanted what's best for you?"
Though maybe, in her way, her grandmother had only wanted what was best — but for herself and her own narrow-minded view of what mattered in life, so totally different from Lexi's that throughout her childhood she'd felt like a changeling. It had taken a jolt to make her realize she had to find a way out before she lost herself completely.
"I have forgiven you." Like, never. "It's just our lives are so different now. You live on another continent, I'm married ..." She resisted the urge to cross her fingers behind her back.
"Well, you can come to dinner tonight. Daniel has a favor to ask you."
"He does?" She couldn't begin to imagine what. And that was another lie. There was only one thing Daniel and her grandmother ever wanted from her — money.
Though usually her grandmother kept the requests to Lexi's once-a-year visit to New York.
"We're at the Ritz," her grandmother said. "Eight o'clock and don't be —"
The telephone rang, interrupting her flow. Lexi gave her a weak smile, edged around her, and picked up the phone. The flashing red light indicated it was Sadie. "Yes?"
"You have another visitor." Once again Sadie was speaking in hushed tones.
"I do?" Gosh, she was popular.
"Yeah. And just let me say ... wow! You lucky girl. I'll send him straight in."
Sadie ended the call before Lexi could answer. Him? A really bad feeling was swelling up inside her. What were the chances? She stared at the closed door, her eyes growing wide, her legs growing weak as the handle turned ...
* * *
The receptionist stood with her back to him, whispering into the phone. She'd seemed to recognize him, which was strange and unexpected.
Joshua Slater shifted his weight onto his good leg, rubbing absently at his thigh as he waited. He'd broken the leg six weeks ago when the cruise ship he was working on had crashed and sunk in the Mediterranean. Now his mind drifted back to that night and the decision he'd made while floating in the lifeboat afterward. Coming face-to-face with death had a way of making you reassess your life, decide what was important.
Maybe he should have gotten his lawyer to send the annulment papers, but he thought it only polite to visit in person. He wasn't expecting any opposition. Whatever his "wife's" reasons were for entering into a fake marriage nearly five years ago, her circumstances had no doubt changed. Like his.
The receptionist turned with a big grin. "You can go right on through" — she nodded to a door opposite — "Lexi is going to be thrilled to bits to see you."
She is? Doubtful.
A case of mistaken identity perhaps? He could feel a frown forming between his eyes. This wasn't going as planned, and he hated the unexpected. Casting the receptionist a last look, he shook his head, and strode toward the door.
He pushed it open and peered into the room. His gaze locked on a small redhead in jeans and a white T-shirt, who stood in front of a big, wooden desk. Her eyes were wide and filled with ... horror? He took a step into the room and opened his mouth to explain who he was — just as she launched herself toward him.
He didn't have time to answer as she crashed into his chest. His bad leg almost gave out beneath him. He braced it, reached instinctively for the door for balance, but it slammed shut behind him, and the force of her momentum backed him up against the wood. Her fingers were clenched on his shoulders, her legs wrapped around his waist, and one of his hands automatically curled around her, holding her in place.
His cock stirred in his pants at her closeness, her smell, her hot breath —
He shook his head. Definitely not what he expected. She was staring into his face, and he had the strangest impression she was trying to tell him something. Her eyes were huge, and she had the longest, curliest lashes he had ever seen. He opened his mouth again as she lowered her head and kissed him.
His mind went blank, and his body came to instant alert, heat sizzling along his nerves.
Her lips were closed, and she was jamming her mouth hard against his. But she was soft and curved in all the right places, and it had been years since he'd had a woman in his arms.
Leaving one hand on her ass, holding her in place, he brought his other up to burrow in the soft curls at the base of her neck. She backed off slightly at his touch. He really needed to tell her who he was. Why he was here.
"Easy, honey. I'm —"
Her lips came down on his again, cutting off his words. Her breasts pressed against his chest, her legs tightened around him, rubbing against his cock so the blood drained from his veins, sinking to his groin. He groaned against her lips.
What the hell?
How long had it been? Too long, and his instincts took over, taking control of the kiss.
He turned her so she was pressed up against the door, his hardening erection nudging against her softness. She went still, raised her head. Her eyes widened, and her mouth fell open, and he lowered his and thrust his tongue inside. She tasted sharp and spicy, with a hint of honeyed sweetness. She was still for a second, and then she was kissing him back, her tongue pushing against his, her hands fisting in the hair at his nape.
Not why I'm here.
A little voice nagged at his brain saying something was wrong with this scenario. But then she pressed even closer so her firm — and amazingly full — breasts flattened against him, and his dick got even harder, draining the last of the blood from his brain and shutting down the annoying nagging.
Unfortunately, it didn't cut out the noise from behind him. He wanted to ignore it. His body liked where it was and what it was doing, and he didn't want to stop. Then someone cleared their throat for a second time, and he went still. He removed his tongue from where it had no right to be — but hell, she'd accosted him — and leaned away a little so he could look down into her face.
Encountering her dazed expression, he gave her a little jiggle. She shook her head. Her eyes were huge, wide open, and they darted from his face to beyond his left shoulder and filled with alarm. Her attention came back to him, and a look of desperation, then pleading, filled her face.
"Josh." Her voice was low, breathy, and his dick twitched. "I'd like to introduce you to my grandmother."
What the fuck?
His turn to shake his head. The morning had taken on a surreal quality. But at least his dick was wilting in his pants.
What the hell was I thinking?
Excerpted from Her Fantasy Husband by Nina Croft, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Nina Croft. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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