An Improper Deal (Billionaires' Brides of Convenience #3) - Nadia Lee

Chapter One

Annabelle

“I would like you to marry.”

The announcement makes me start, and I choke on my coffee.

Mr. Grayson pulls a pristine white handkerchief from the inner pocket of his suit jacket and hands it to me. It smells faintly of detergent. I take it and wipe the drink off my chin and shirt. Thankfully my T-shirt is black.

The man is in his mid-thirties, with medium brown hair and brown eyes. He has the kind of average face that any company wanting to advertise an everyman product would use. I’ve never seen him wear anything but a suit, even in Vegas, where we first met, and its oppressive desert heat. Now the outfit makes him stand out in this casual bistro, where everyone else is in T-shirts and shorts.

“I’m only twenty-two,” I tell him. “What’s the rush?”

“You’re twenty-two without an education or career prospects. Being in Los Angeles doesn’t change that.”

His tone is matter-of-fact, but I can’t help stiffening a little. Does he think I chose to be a college dropout or fail to develop real skills? All the opportunities I thought I had—my parents and everything else—have been stolen from me.

“Then why did you bring me to L.A.?” I ask. He didn’t just bring me here. He paid the moving expenses, helped my sister and me get an apartment.

“The man is exceptionally rich,” he says, like he hasn’t heard my question. He often ignores me when he doesn’t think what I’m saying is relevant. It’s very 1800s…and very irritating.

Two years ago I would’ve never tolerated this kind of treatment. But now, well, beggars can’t be choosers. Without help from Mr. Grayson, my sister and I won’t survive for long. Nobody wants to hire a college dropout with minimal skills, not in this economy. A willingness to learn and work hard don’t matter much when you can’t get a single reference. The people from my past won’t lift a finger to help me, just to spite my dad. It doesn’t matter that he’s dead or that Mom died with him. To them, my parents got what they deserved. And now Nonny and I are getting it.

The notion constricts my heart until I can barely breathe.

“Probably old and without all his teeth as well,” I add, trying to pretend I’m not hurting thinking about what could have been.

“He’s twenty-six. Soon to be twenty-seven.” Mr. Grayson corrects me in that same factual tone of voice.

“Then why can’t he find a wife on his own?”

“He prefers to marry quickly.”

“Do you work for him?”

More ignoring. I try a different tack. “What’s wrong with him that he needs to go to this extreme?”

“He wants to marry a stripper.”

Stunned, I wait a beat so he can laugh at my gullibility, point a finger and then say, “Gotcha!” But of course he doesn’t. He isn’t the joking type.

“A stripper,” I say flatly.

“Yes. So you will strip at a club he frequents.”

Thankfully my coffee is on the table rather than in my mouth when he makes that little announcement. My face heats until I feel like I’m going to combust on the spot. “I most certainly will not!” I smack the table with my flattened palm, making my coffee cup jump. A couple of the other patrons look at us.

“Yes, you will. You don’t have a job anymore.”

I clench my teeth. “I can always get another.”

“Can you? You’ve been looking for over a month.”

Bastard. The only reason why it’s taking so long is this crappy economy and my lack of skills. These days, you need a college diploma to flip burgers.

“So you will do whatever it takes,” he continues. “I’m