Excerpt: The Marriage Arrangement
Book 2: North Moon Bay Series
“What happens when you want out of this sham marriage?” Izzy asked. “Maybe you’ll meet someone and fall in love—”
He laughed harshly. “I do that two or three times a week. It usually lasts for about half an hour.”
“Seriously,” he said. “Ain’t gonna happen. I know myself well enough to state unequivocally that I have no intention of ever settling down with anyone. But if you find someone and want a divorce, no problem. Hell, if you want to file papers the day after the baby’s born, be my guest. I’m just trying to help you out here.”
“I know.” She gripped his shoulder. “And I appreciate it. More than I can tell you.”
From downstairs came the muted blare of noisemakers.
“So you’ll do it?”
She laughed incredulously. “This is crazy.”
“We’ve been all over that. We know it’s crazy. But we’re gonna do it anyway. Right?”
She groaned, but she was smiling that billion-watt smile. “Right.”
“Yes!” He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed.
The door flew open; Harry’s linebacker silhouette filled the doorway. “There you are! You guys, it’s almost midnight and—” His eyes widened as he took in the rumpled coats and the embrace. “This can’t be what it looks like.”
“We’re getting married,” Clay said.
“Clay!” Izzy exclaimed.
“Look,” he said, “everyone’s going to find out sooner or later. That is the point, after all.”
She sighed and slumped against him.
“You and Izzy,” Harry said slowly, as if waiting for the punch line. “Getting married.”
Clay nodded. “Will you be best man?”
Harry stood in silence for a moment, his expression gradually softening from incredulity to sanguine acceptance. He tapped the brim of his Yankees cap. “Can I wear this?”
“I wouldn’t recognize you without it.”
“Then I’m your man, homie.”
Clay caught Izzy’s eye. “‘Homie’?”
Harry cocked his head toward the stairs leading to the first floor, where the sounds of celebration were escalating to a fever pitch. “The countdown’s gonna start soon. If you can disentangle yourselves, you should join us.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“Ten!” the revelers roared as they stared at the live broadcast from Times Square on Harry’s gigundo TV. “Nine!”
I must be nuts, Izzy thought, squeezed up against Clay in the crowd surrounding the television. Did I really just agree to marry Clay Granger?
Clay leaned in close to her, his palm over the top of his champagne flute to keep its contents from spilling. When he spoke into her ear, she could only hear about every other word because of the noise, but she thought he said, “This countdown reminds me of getting ready to jump out of an airplane.”
He laughed. “Man, I love that feeling, when you’re just falling through the air, falling and falling. Know what I mean?”
He’s nuts, too.
“Three! Two! One!”
We’re both nuts. What are we doing?
“Happy New Year!” Horns shrieked; voices whooped. Izzy, having sworn off alcohol for the duration of her pregnancy, pretended to take a sip of her champagne; Clay drained his.
As “Auld Lang Syne” played in the background, couples paired up for the traditional kiss at the stroke of midnight. Izzy pointedly avoided looking at Clay. She feigned another sip of champagne. When she lowered her glass, he was staring down at her.
He took her glass out of her hand and set it on a side table, along with his. Then he tilted her chin up, leaned down, and kissed her.
It was a sweet kiss, soft and unassuming. But as he started to pull away, he hesitated, and his mouth grazed hers again.
His lips were warm, and they tickled, making her shiver with heat. He closed his eyes, so she did, too. She felt a firmer pressure as he moved his mouth gently over hers.
This is a real kiss, not just a New Year’s kiss. Clay’s really kissing me! And, God help her, she was kissing him back.
She felt a slow rush of vertigo, as if she were losing her balance…as if she were, in fact, falling through the air, falling and falling… It stopped when his fingers threaded through her hair to cup the back of her head, steadying her. He encircled her waist with his other arm, holding her firmly. She returned the embrace, telling herself, No, it’s really just a New Year’s kiss. Nothing wrong with a little New Year’s kiss.
Clay’s tongue, hot and tasting of champagne, swept lightly over her lips. She inhaled sharply. His arm tightened around her momentarily, and then he pulled back and looked at her. She noticed his chest rising and falling rapidly beneath that fisherman-knit sweater. For the briefest moment his eyes searched hers, and then he seemed to gather himself, and looked away.
So did Izzy. Around them, the other couples had already separated and the party was getting back into full swing.
Harry sauntered up to them, chuckling and shaking his head. “I must say, you two are just full of surprises tonight.”
“Yeah,” Clay said after a moment. He glanced briefly in Izzy’s direction, his dazed expression that of a man who’d just realized the full extent of the deal he’d struck. “I guess we are.”