Who doesn’t love a fun accidental marriage? Well, Jill and Burke aren’t crazy about it right off the bat because it really messes with their business plans. Burt then again, there’s more to life than just business…
There’s love. And you know they’re going to find it on this bumpy ride full of laughter and tears!
Ready? Let’s dive in with a sneak peek!
SNEAK PEEK: CHAPTER 1
Jill Armstrong swiped a damp hand down her skirt and took a deep breath. She pulled on the glass door to the building’s workout room. Locked.
Another road block in her plan. She should just go home. Pretend she never found out about the document in her hand, pretend she’d never come here to try and tell Burke Carver.
A skinny security guard approached Jill from the other side of the locked door and frowned at her attire—heels and a skirt. No visitor badge.
Burke, who she could see on a treadmill about thirty feet beyond the door, would surely notice if the security guard tossed her out.
Stick to the plan and there would be no disasters. That’s the way life worked. She’d fallen to the siren call of spontaneity last April and now look. Disaster.
Jill made an unlocking motion with her hand, and the security guard raised his pale eyebrows. He made a sweeping motion indicating that if she wanted in, she needed an access card. She repeated her motion. The security guard’s shoulders moved as though heaving a tremendous sigh over her stubbornness.
She rattled the door. “Let me in.”
The security guard cracked the door a few inches. “You need an access card to enter.”
“I’m here to see Burke Carver.” Jill pressed a hand against the door’s cool glass, stepping forward.
A few weeks ago Jill had been delighted when the bank had finally approved her latest application for a business loan—until she realized why. It had had everything to do with Burke Carver, the man who’d refused to consider a partnership with her small company a mere ten months ago.
Jill held the large manila envelope against her chest and surreptitiously wiped a palm against her skirt once again. She had a pretty good feeling Burke would remember her, but she wasn’t as certain he’d recall the way their few drinks in the conference hotel bar had culminated in the disaster currently tucked inside her envelope. Although, it was possible he recalled more than she did. But if he had, they surely would have had this upcoming talk almost a year ago.
She was confident he was going to believe she’d been playing him. And even worse, she’d gained weight in the past few months and no longer had a slim build he tended to gravitate toward and he… No, it didn’t matter what he thought. She just needed him to do his part to make their little problem go away. Quickly.
“No access card, no admittance,” the guard said nervously.
“Trust me,” she replied, tone firm. “He’ll want to see me, and he will have your head if he learns I came all this way only to be sent home.”
The man slowly stepped away from the door and Jill gave him a curt smile while pushing past. The workout room smelled of disinfectant, warm bodies and machines, reminding her of the hours she’d spent in the basement workout area with her father as a teen. Her twin sister, meanwhile, had spent her time upstairs with their mother learning how to curl hair and apply makeup.
Across the workout area, Burke was still on the treadmill, his body moving in a fluid, captivating way. His calf muscles rippled as they propelled him forward on the machine, his hair flopping as he landed before he pushed off again, moving at a pace that would surely leave most people winded.
Jill strode over, trying to ignore how her reflection was following her across the room in the long panel of mirrors to her right.
Burke was laughing with a woman on the neighboring elliptical machine. She barely had an ounce of body fat, her hair was in a perfect, smooth ponytail, her makeup not at all impacted by her workout…because she wasn’t even sweating.
How was that even possible? Then again, Jill had once looked like that—and her twin sister still did as she hadn’t gained the same ten pounds Jill had over the past few months. Okay, fifteen after an ice-cream binge.
“Burke?” His name had come out sharply, and he turned, eyes narrowed. His even, powerful stride faltered.
He quickly regained his rhythm, legs pumping.
“We need to talk,” Jill said.
His open expression had changed, shadowing his face. This was where he said no. “Make an appointment.”
Frustration and anger pounded inside Jill and she reached over to slap the treadmill’s emergency stop. The machine came to a quick halt.
“I said we need to talk.”
His gaze traveled to her gut and she instinctively sucked in. Less than a year ago they’d shared a million laughs, dinner, drinks, his room. And more according to the document she was holding. But she was not a new mom looking for her partner to pay up.
Burke’s gaze had flicked to the security guard who was standing behind Jill. She shot the nervous man a dirty look and he backed up a step, his adam’s apple bobbing.
“You’ll want to see this,” Jill said as Burke restarted the machine.
“I’m not taking proposals right now.” He was just about up to his previous pace again. “Excuse me, I’m working out.”
“Fine.” Jill moved to the vacant treadmill on the far side of Burke and used it for support as she shucked her heels. She stepped on to the machine, placing her envelope in the magazine holder.
“What are you doing?” Burke asked.
Burke stared at her while she started the machine.
This was such a horrible idea. Absolutely horrible. She’d been too busy to workout much over the past year and she was going to be sweaty and panting within thirty seconds. Not to mention what she was about to do to her sister’s borrowed pantyhose.
“Here,” Burke stated. “Wearing that? Just so you can speak to me?” There was a twinkle of something in Burke’s eyes. Reluctant respect for her moxie perhaps? He had reacted to that in the past—and she’d found that powerfully heady.
“Yes,” she said primly. The machine was going too fast and she had to jog to get her feet back under her as she worked to control the speed. “If your secretary was a bit more helpful…” She paused to suck in a breath.
“I could have made an appointment—” She inhaled. “—where we could discuss this in an office like civilized adults.”
Oh, man. She was already panting.
“So your stalkerish harassment isn’t a coincidence?” he said, his tone dry.
“There’s no such thing as coincidence.” Coincidences were like a Trojan horse. They looked like a gift to get you to let your guard down, then they led to nothing but disasters. Plans were the only thing you should trust.
Burke stopped his machine and flicked a white towel over his shoulder. He was watching her again, his gaze back on her belly.
“Let’s talk somewhere more private.” He gave the woman he’d been chatting with earlier a nod, then without a word, began walking away. Jill scrambled to follow, hustling back to the treadmill to reclaim her abandoned heels.
Burke was moving swiftly through the maze of clanking weight machines and she caught up just as he opened a stairwell door.
As the door closed behind her, he turned, arms crossed.
The concrete landing suddenly felt too small, too closed in.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly. His gaze was traveling over her, slowly, noting changes perhaps. “I didn’t have a baby if that’s what you’re thinking.”
He gave her a sharp look. He turned, walking up the flight of stairs, his hands clenched around each end of his towel. “Tell your friend Emma Carrington I said hello. You can also tell her my decision hasn’t changed since last year despite her recommendation.”
She’d set up the meeting between them at the conference, her name opening the door for Jill who ran a small botanical business. She’d been hoping to partner with Burke’s large online store that specialized in eco-friendly clothing. Jill had hoped he’d agree to feature her products online as add-on items.
She had been too small beans, according to him. She got that, she did. But he hadn’t even looked at her growth plan.
She lowered her voice. “I’m here about something else. Something more…personal.”
Burke turned to face her and she swallowed, feeling suddenly as though the enclosed, cool space of the stairwell was way too warm. His look had intensified, bringing out his handsomeness. The sharp lines of his jaw strengthened, his dark brown eyes turned practically black. Without a word he began taking the stairs upward, two at a time. She took her time in following him, trying to prevent her heart from blasting out of her chest. It had taken her a week to get the courage to come here, and had only come because she knew it would be worse in the long run if she didn’t.
One floor up, Burke held the massive door to his company offices, letting her pass. Then, he led her through a large open area dotted with thriving potted plants and streaming with natural light from the large windowed offices that were glassed in along the building’s outer walls. No flickering fluorescent lights, just sunshine and the odd soft LED floor lamp to brighten a sitting area or work area. Desks speckled the edges of the room, several offices off to the left and right with one large one straight ahead. Just about everyone looked up with a smile, ready to wave until they caught their boss’s expression.
Wordlessly, Burke strode into the large office, saying over his shoulder, “Close the door.”
He sat in a bamboo executive chair with worn cushions and faced her, fingers steepled, his eyes boring through her with that familiar intensity of his.
She took the chair across from him and nervously handed him the envelope. Nothing but the whirl of his computer fan filled the silence as he looked at the vital records document.
As he skimmed it, she braced herself for what would surely be an explosion.
* * *
He was married? To Jill Armstrong.
No, he would most certainly remember that.
“Is this your idea of a joke?” Burke rose from his desk, his mind running through the possible implications of the marriage certificate being valid. None of them were good. He was betting that if this was real there wasn’t a prenuptial agreement.
He’d fought for this company through one divorce and won. He wasn’t going to lose it now.
He placed his hands on his desk and leaned forward, snapping, “Is it?”
Across the desk, Jill’s eyes were wide, her head mutely shaking back and forth.
He tried to rein in his rage, but found control was out of reach. He swept a hand down his face, collecting sweat from his workout. He had a meeting with a potential, much-needed financial backer in fifteen minutes. He’d planned to finish his run, shower, and arrive fresh with a clear mind.
He had trusted Jill. She was smart, strong, and he’d been certain she understood what he was willing and able to offer, and that she was not in need of anything more. He’d always been careful, choosing women who were happy to stand on their own two feet and didn’t want or need a relationship or text the next day.
Women who only wanted him to help burn off their stress.
No strings. No commitments.
And no flipping marriage. Didn’t she know the rules?
No, she was playing an entirely different game. He hadn’t partnered his business with hers last April, so she’d gotten him drunk and married him. Now she was here to claim her marital assets.
Man, he was a fool. He’d admired the way she hadn’t taken the rejection of her business proposal personally, and he’d even considered looking her up since then. The night after her pitch they’d accidentally ended up sharing a few shots of tequila in the conference hotel bar, in the middle of a wedding party that was taking place around them, luring them to join in with the celebrations.
He’d woken up the next morning with a massive headache, his memory full of blanks, and an empty bed.
After a few months of silence, he’d assumed everything was cool.
Obviously, it wasn’t.
Something huge had gone down during that blank spot in his memory. Something bigger than waking up to find a puzzling, one-inch-long comma tattooed to the inside of his right wrist.
But now he wasn’t so sure she hadn’t taken things personally that night. She’d found a way to partner with him, after all. Why, though, had she waited this long to tell him? What trap had she laid in order to take advantage of him?
And married? How on earth had she convinced him to say those two little words of marital agreement that he never planned on uttering again for as long as he lived? He’d proved he wasn’t capable of marriage and all that went with it, and he wasn’t the kind of man who needed to learn his lessons more than once.
“I’ve already looked into an annulment,” she said quietly, ignoring his outburst.
His mind stopped.
Annulment? She wanted to pretend this had never happened?
“Good,” he said, easing back in his chair. “You know, I remember every night of my life except that one.”
He cleared his throat and sat forward again. “But what matters is how we fix this—quickly and quietly. How do we get this marriage considered invalid?”
A married man, one who was the founder and owner of an ethical, green company, did not take the governor’s daughter to a ball, as he had a few weeks ago.
It didn’t matter that it had been a business move—he’d been seeking corporate tax breaks and Governor Martinez had suggested they talk at the event. Burke had agreed. Then there had been the issue of a ticket.
But it turned out his daughter, who was in need of a date, had an extra.
The press had acted like there was something between the two of them, despite Burke telling Autumn he wasn’t interested in a relationship. But the media attention had made her eyes dance. He hadn’t been able to shake her ever since.
Reporters would go nuts if they found out that he, a man who never committed, had been married the whole time. Especially to a woman whose curves could rival that of a racetrack. Dangerous. He didn’t recall her being so curvy the last time he’d seen her, and his eyes kept being drawn to the dip in her waist before the flare of her hips. Her shapely legs.
“There is a slight hitch,” Jill said, drawing his attention back to their conversation.
Burke froze, then wiped a hand across his mouth, but the feeling that he’d lost control of something very important didn’t go away.
“What do you mean?” he croaked.
“As you know, I’m looking to expand my business.” Jill was avoiding his gaze and his right leg began jiggling with pent-up energy.
“So am I.” He’d put nearly every asset the company owned—as well as his own—behind their latest push for growth.
“I applied for a loan.”
He nodded. So had he. And yesterday it had been denied—a move that puzzled the company’s accountant.
The team at Sustain This, Honey, had taken a calculated risk by financially extending themselves, knowing that with the right moves they’d make that money back in a conservative six months, if not sooner.
They counted on him to personally create a financial bridge that he’d unexpectedly been unable to raise.
That meant he needed to go into his next meeting fresh, calm and on top of his game, so the potential investor felt confident in stepping up. And Jill and her marriage problem wasn’t helping him stay calm and collected.
She studiously kept her eyes trained on the edge of Burke’s desk, then the wall to his right, which was coated with whiteboard paint where he’d written out their growth plan’s timeline.
Jill spoke, her tone even. “They approved the loan based on my husband’s credit rating.”
Burke’s mind stopped working as he processed the statement.
Husband’s credit rating.
That was him.
His recently denied loan application was because of her?
No. That—this—had to be a nightmare.
“Burke?” Jill asked gently. Her tentative, but curious tone brought him back to the conference hotel bar where they’d spent hours chatting. He’d been sitting alone in the boisterous pub, thinking over the day, and had turned to see who was speaking to him. The lights had been behind her, giving her dark hair depth. Someone had popped a confetti bomb to celebrate the partying bride and groom, and Jill had jumped forward, landing in the V between his legs, her palms, hot and sure, pressing against his thighs as she’d steadied herself. She’d laughed it off, embarrassed by her overreaction to the loud crack, but the contact had sent a shiver down his spine. A shiver of longing.
As she repeated his name now, in his office, that same anticipatory shiver ran through him again like a conditioned response.
Longing. Longing for his wife.
No, not him. No way.
A funnel of rage whipped through him.
“Get out.” He came around his desk. He didn’t want to even think about the level of deceit she’d gone to in order to get that loan. “And pay back the loan immediately.”
He reached for the door, stopping when she stuttered, “I—I can’t.”
“You took it, you pay it. You did not have my authority, and I will sue you into the ground for this, you hear me?”
He was losing control.
Of his emotions, of his company.
If she defaulted, everything would be lost. People depended upon him. He had a staff of twenty-five just outside that office door, people who trusted him not to mess up, not to let his grip slip. And somehow he had. The personal loan he’d counted on to help the company was now out of reach.
Tears streaked down Jill’s cheeks as she snatched the document from his desk.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“I paid for this copy. It’s mine.” She swiped at her wet cheeks, her spine straight. Her chin was jutting out and she looked fierce even with the tears.
But the tears. He didn’t expect someone like her to be reduced by his sharp tone.
She’d used him, hadn’t she? Used him to get the loan, so she could expand when he hadn’t allowed her to partner with Sustain This, Honey. And now she was using tears to try and soften him.
Jill was babbling at high speed. “I swear I didn’t know, Burke. I wouldn’t have transferred it to my vendors.
It wasn’t until Wini—the loan manager—was teasing me weeks later about keeping a secret husband that…”
She paused to gulp, steadying herself. “I’m so sorry, Burke. I really am. It was so embarrassing and confusing. I’ll fix this. I promise.”
He studied her, feeling uncertain by the depth of her emotion. But he couldn’t trust her, could he? The tears could be fake. This could have all been orchestrated.
“Just tell me where to show up for this annulment.”
* * *
End of sneak peek!
(And you know I’m not going to make it that easy for them. Nope. Things are going to get deliciously complicated!)
Keep reading Accidentally Married!