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Million Dollar Marriage (Million Dollar #2)
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From New York Times bestselling author Katy Evans comes a hot romance about two strangers and their race to fall in love.
If someone had bet Nell a million dollars that she would be saying “I do” to a complete stranger on national television, she’d have called them crazy, but with her crushing student loan payments sending her deep into the red, she’s out of options. This should be nothing more than a business transaction—until she sets eyes on her groom, and everything changes.
The game is on the instant Luke spots Penelope “Nell” Carpenter. He’s out for the money, yes, but getting a little dirty with Nell doesn’t sound too bad either. Everyone knows he’s not the marrying kind, so it’s a good thing it’s just for show. God knows he’s the worst guy his pretty wife should pick for real.
They have nothing in common, but if they want the grand prize, they’ll have to beat out eight other couples. Proving that total opposites attract should be easy enough…as long as they don’t fall in love in the process.
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It was a fake marriage.
At least, that was the plan . . .
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
I’m going to lose my lunch.
It’s the live finale the entire country has been waiting for. The arena is packed to the gills with reporters, cameras pointed at us. Flashbulbs go off, and my future seems to flash through my eyes with them.
Everything depends on what will happen in the next hour. We could give our answer in a split second, but not now. I know the announcer will drag things out to the point of sheer madness. Recaps of poignant moments from the season, interviews with contestants, performances by “special celebrity guests” who are also fans of the show.
It’s all meant to build up to the moment of truth.
Every one of the people in this arena, every one of the thirteen million people watching at home—they’re all waiting on the edge of their seats with the same question.
Will they . . . or won’t they?
I wish to god we could just give our answer and be done.
He’s so close, but he might as well be a million miles away. Our fingers entwined, he waves at the crowd cheering our names. His hand isn’t the least bit clammy. I manage a peek at him, his chiseled features, his relaxed smile, and my throat catches.
No wonder the world is in love with him. No wonder he’s been the fan favorite since week one.
This is it. The end. Or . . .
I look over at him and say, “Luke . . . I’m not . . .”
He shakes his head almost imperceptibly. “It’s okay,” he murmurs, his fingers stroking my palm. “Breathe, Penny. Just breathe.”
So I do. But air is not the only thing I need to make me okay right now.
We’ve been through so much, more than most couples will go through in entire lifetimes.
And now we’re about to make the decision that will shape our future.
To think, seven months ago, I didn’t even know Luke Cross. Three months ago, I despised him. But somewhere along the line, things changed.
Somewhere along this crazy little adventure we’ve been having, played out on television for the entire world to see, I did what I told myself I’d never do.
I don’t even know how it happened, but as I look back, it seems so inevitable. Like I couldn’t have stopped it, even if I’d tried.
But just because it was meant to happen doesn’t mean it will last forever . . .
HALF A MILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT
I really don’t know why I’m here. I’ll probably be the first person voted out. If we vote people out? I don’t watch television, so I have no idea how these competitions work.
—Nell’s Confessional, Day 1
Seven months earlier
I’m lying on the floor of the living room of my off-campus apartment. I think I might be having a heart attack.
Courtney comes inside and looks down at me with a pout. Kicks me a little with her pointy-toe flat. “That bad?”
She sees the torn envelope, the trifold statement lying on my abdomen.
She knows exactly what time of year it is and what this means.
And yes, she also knows how bad this is.
But for the past few years, I’ve been very good at living in denial, ignoring the approaching day of reckoning, the day when the crap hits the fan.
Which is totally today.
“I can’t breathe,” I moan out. “I’m dying.”
She goes to the fridge and grabs a handful of grapes. “Hmm. If you die, is someone else responsible for your student loans?”
I sit up and scowl at her. But only for a second because suddenly I feel weak again. I might be coming down with something. I lie back down and stare up at the old dusty crystal chandelier in our crap apartment. The crap apartment I’d chosen to save money. It’s not like I’ve lived like a princess all these years. I’ve been frugal, dang it!
She crouches and picks up the letter. “Wow. $500K, huh?”
Ugh. Hearing it out loud like that only makes it seem more insurmountable. I push my butt into the ground, hoping the floor will swallow me up. “How did I get here?”
She taps her chin. “I don’t know. It might have to do with not getting a job when you graduated from college four years ago.”
I sit up and stare at her. My best friend, Courtney, majored in education, obtaining her undergrad degree at Emory at the same time I did, and she has a real job now. She’s not making big bucks, but at least she can pay down her student loan debt each month and doesn’t have to put her half of the rent on her credit card. Plus, she can afford little luxuries, like . . .
Courtney catches me eyeing her iced vanilla bean Frappuccino and hands it over. I greedily take a sip. “You poor thing.”