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Authors: J. C. Reed,Jackie Steele

The Agreement (An Indecent Proposal)

BOOK: The Agreement (An Indecent Proposal)
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THE AGREEMENT
 
J.C. Reed & Jackie Steele

An Indecent Proposal: The Agreement

Copyright
©
2015 by J.C. Reed & Jackie Steele.

All rights reserved.

 

Permissions by the authors must be granted before any part of
this book can be used for advertising purposes. This includes the right to
reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are the product of the authors’ imagination and are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or
dead, is coincidental.

 

Cover design by Larissa Klein

Editing by Shannon Wolfman & Arran McNichol

Prologue
 
 
 

The first time I saw Lauren Hanson, it was on a snapshot in
a thick folder brought to me by my lawyer, Richard Crook. I was sat at the
mahogany desk in my multimillion-dollar mansion on the outskirts of Santa
Barbara in California. The valley stretching beyond the large bay windows was
streaked in the colors of the setting sun—the deep red as ominous as the
rage surging through me at the prospect of what I was about to do.

Laurie was an attractive girl with brown hair reaching down
to her narrow waist—the kind you could twist around your fist and pull
gently as you rode her hard, then forget all about her. She looked like a nice
girl with an innocent glint in her hazel eyes that reflected even through a
photograph. In less than forty-eight hours I’d be using that innocence to make
her mine forever.

“Are you sure, Mr. Wright?” Crook asked.

I nodded gravely and tossed the folder back to him.

“You’ve barely looked at her,” he continued, “or her
background. Maybe you should wait. I could look into alternatives and—”

“I’m not interested in her life story,” I said through
gritted teeth, cutting him off. “Just make that meeting happen, and I’ll take
over from there.”

Crook heaved a defeated sigh. He didn’t argue as he picked
up the folder but left Laurie’s photo on the desk. Her hazel gaze looked at me
accusingly. I turned it over so I could flee it for the time being, figuring
soon enough I’d have no choice but to face the hatred embedded in her eyes,
staining her heart forever.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” Crook said upon leaving. “If you
change your mind…”

“I won’t,” I said sharply, “and don’t be late.”

Chapter
1
 
 
 

It was almost noon when I arrived at my apartment.
Everything was silent when I entered. After insisting for an hour that Chase
take me home—the one place I had always felt safe but no longer
did—he had given in, but only under the condition that I called him immediately
if anything scared me. The moment I closed the door behind me, Jude called over
from the kitchen, “Where have you been?”

I shrugged out of my jacket and joined her at the kitchen
table. “I spent the night with Chase.”

Her mouth dropped open. “You did what?” She let out a
cascade of incredulous laughter.

“It wasn’t what your dirty mind is imagining.” Actually, it
probably wasn’t far from the truth, but Jude didn’t need to know that. In spite
of the situation, a laugh escaped my throat.

“What happened?” Her eyes were as big as saucepans, and her
smile was so bright I wouldn’t have been surprised if a satellite could have
picked it up from the stratosphere. But as much as I wanted to tell her, I
couldn’t spill the beans because I had more pressing issues to worry about.
Ever since I had opened the envelope, and seeing Chase’s and my face circled
with a thick red marker, I felt a kind of foreboding that left me nauseated.
Chase had been right when he asked me not to tell anyone about it. Jude might
be my best friend, but I didn’t want my fear to infect her and risk her getting
all paranoid on me. My paranoia was enough to deal with. Having her fears
imposed on me was the last thing I needed.

“I’m sorry for dashing your hopes, but I didn’t sleep with
him,” I said.

“Oh.” She stared at me in badly disguised disbelief, the
disappointment clearly etched across her face. Eventually, she shrugged her
shoulders and a grin tugged at her lips. “What’s wrong with you? You spent the
night at his place. It would have been so easy, Laurie.”

“I’m not sleeping with him, Jude. Period.” I glared at her,
my gaze both imploring and threatening if she didn’t drop the subject. “He’s
just a friend and that’s all I want him to be.”

Which was a lie.

A big, fat lie.

I could see her doubt.

And then her phone rang, and I breathed out a sigh of
relief.

“Whatever. You’re making a mistake waiting for Mr. Prince,”
she muttered, and walked back to the living room, closing the door behind her. I
sighed again, then put my keys on the table and squeezed out of my shoes.
Seconds later, a scream echoed down the hall.

“Jude, are you okay?” I dashed for the kitchen.

“I’m going to be a TV personality,” Jude squealed as soon as
I opened the door, her voice echoing off the walls.

I put my handbag on the kitchen table and squeezed out of my
shoes as I took a moment to digest the news. Why was she going to be a TV
personality? And then I remembered her mentioning a blog and a TV channel being
interested in giving her a prime spot.

Her face appeared around the corner before I had the chance
to reply. “Did you hear me?”

“I think all our neighbors did.” I smiled at her. “What
happened?”

“Oh God, I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but I just
talked to some big-shot producers and they told me I’m going to be a TV
personality. For real.”

“Tell me all about it.” I pulled her to the couch with me,
forcing her to sit down as I tucked my legs beneath me. “What did they say
exactly?”

“You know the blog I told you about? The one with my
personal home-decorating ideas?” I nodded and she continued, “Well, apparently,
it was a huge success with the focus group, and now the head honcho of the
channel wants me not only to appear on a huge network once a week, but he’s also
asked me to do a show. That’s two regular gigs!” She held up two fingers and
began to squeal. “Can you imagine?”

“Two shows?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Wow.” I shook my head in admiration. “That’s amazing.”
Drawing her in for a tight hug, I wrapped my arms around her, letting her
happiness pour through her into me. “Congratulations. Now you’ll have to hire
me as your personal bodyguard to keep them from wanting a piece of you once
you’re famous.” Smiling, I grabbed her in another hug, mostly to stop her from
jumping up and down, which she always did when she was excited. She had both
the excitement and the attention of a five-year-old—things that often
came in handy, like now that I needed to take my thoughts off the hot guy who
had proposed.

“Tell me everything. When are you starting? How much are
they paying you?” I squinted, unable to remember whether she had said anything
about a paycheck. “They are paying you, right?”

She nodded. “Plus insurance and a bonus if I reach a ten per
cent increase in viewers. I also get a personal assistant and a driver who
picks me up and drops me off at the studios.”

“Wow.” I couldn’t help but be impressed. I had never envied
people working in show business because, first of all, it required a certain
amount of self-confidence. And second, a chatty personality, which I didn’t
possess. Public speaking had always come naturally to Jude. Back in college,
she wouldn’t hesitate to stand up in front of a class and start asking
questions. She had always been popular. As she often said, she loved the
attention. She loved to inspire people, which was why she started blogging in
the first place. Even then I knew she had the potential to be huge one day.
Me…not so much. I always took things quieter, maybe because all my life I had
tried to remain hidden. Low-key. Inconspicuous.

“See, the thing is I’m supposed to have my first day
tomorrow. Just a test shooting to see how people react to me and whether I have
what it takes.” She laughed nervously. “I’m not sure I have what it takes to
impress them. At home, behind the computer screen, I feel like I can be myself.
But in front of a huge crew, and recorded live? I don’t know, Laurie.”

“You do have what it takes. I have no doubt about it,” I
said, meaning every word of it. “If anyone can impress them, it’s you, Jude.”

“Thanks.” She shrugged, her nervousness slowly dissipating.
She was going with the flow, living in the moment, worrying about things when
she was forced to face them—the way only Jude could. “I was wondering if
I could borrow something from your wardrobe.” Her red-tinted lips stretched
into a wide smile—the kind she always employed to get what she wanted. I
didn’t mind sharing whatever I had with her, but Jude
never
borrowed my clothes. My taste in clothes and consequent
wardrobe were the two things she always laughed about.

“Why? What’s wrong with your clothes?” I asked warily.

“Nothing.” Her voice came out too loud. She sounded so
guilty I almost cringed. “I just like yours better.”

Big, fat lie.

She never ever would wear my clothes unless…

“Oh my gosh.” I snorted. “Admit it, Jude, your clothes are
too slutty for the occasion.”

“They’re not.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and regarded her, amused.
“Look who needs one of
my
business
blazers now. After all those years of insulting my choice of clothing, I should
make you write an apology letter.” A better idea crossed my mind. “In fact, you
can choose whatever you want under one condition. You wear something from my
wardrobe for a week. And yes, it has to be a different outfit every day.”

“No.” Jude’s eyes widened in horror. I bit back a snarky
remark. My clothes weren’t
that
bad.
“They just called to remind me to wear something conservative. As in a dark
gray suit with just a hint of color.” She said the word like it was a rash. “I
have no choice or say in the matter.”

“And now you want to borrow my stuff?” She looked so
horrified I could barely contain my laughter. Jude wasn’t just keen on
decorating homes, she also liked to do it dressed up like a sexy goddess.

“Take whatever you want. I’m happy you get this chance.
You’ve worked so hard, you deserve it.”

“Thank you. I wasn’t sure how you’d react, which is why I’ve
made you dinner.”

I gawked at her, only now smelling the faint scent of roasted
onions and something else. I sniffed the air loudly as I fought to place the
smell. “What is that?” It wasn’t unpleasant, just…strange.

“I told you, dinner,” Jude said.

“You never cook.” Which was the equivalent of ‘you can’t
cook’. Neither Jude nor I had a chef bone in our body.

“Yeah.” She grimaced. “I found out the hard way when I had
to ask the neighbor to help me figure out the oven. His name is Tinker. As in
Tinkerbell.”

I raised one eyebrow. “Honestly? You want me to believe we
have a neighbor by the name of Tinker?”

She shook her head and winked.

“Okay. If you have to know, I don’t remember his name. But
look, I’m telling you the truth.” She walked into the kitchen, expecting me to
follow her, which I did. “I’m not a completely lost cause, which is why I’ve
tried my hand at a foolproof recipe passed on to me by my grandmother.”

And by that she meant Google, because Jude’s parents
migrated from Australia to the States when she was an infant and she never got
to meet her grandparents.

“What’s this?” I looked at the sticky, boiling brown mass
and fought the urge to grimace.

“It’s vegetables.” She looked at it. “You know, that stuff
that’s supposed to be healthy and good for you.”

The gooey stuff looked like no healthy stuff I had ever
seen.

I grinned. “In that case, I’m starving.”

“Then wait until you see the meat.” I stared at her
open-mouthed as she opened the oven, wondering what she meant by that.

 

***

 

Jude’s first attempt at magic, a.k.a. cooking, looked
edible. An hour later, a mouth-watering scent wafted over from the crispy brown
roast beef with roast vegetables.

“Want some?” Jude said, coaxing me proudly.

Everything looked so delicious my stomach made a growling
sound in response. “Pile it on, darling.”

She chuckled and retrieved her carving knife, which we had
never used in the three years we had been roommates. Jude plunged the knife
into our dinner, only it barely penetrated the skin.

“Are you sure this is ready?” I asked skeptically. “Isn’t
the meat supposed to be tender?”

“I followed the recipe down to a T.” She frowned at it as
she managed to cut a piece of sinewy meat. “Maybe it’s supposed to be a steak.”

No steak I had ever seen resembled
that.

Ah, but the trouble with recipes was that they were written
by people who
knew
what they were
talking about, and as a result they believed the whole world did, too.

 

***

 

It took fifteen minutes and our entire strength to cut the
meat in two thin slices. We were sitting at the table, our plates in front of us,
eyeing the brown, palm-sized cuts warily.

“You did this for me, and I’ll gladly eat all of it,” I said
resolutely, pointing my fork to my dinner plate. “It looks delicious. I’ll give
you that.”

“It’s a Thai recipe. I used fresh spices,” Jude said flatly.

“Really?”

She nodded.

“Wow. A Thai recipe.” I nodded, impressed, and pushed a tiny
piece of meat into my mouth. “Your grandma really knew how to cook.”

Oh, God.

It was hot. So hot, I stopped chewing and scanned the table
for anything to drink.

My eyes started to water as the burning sensation in my
mouth began to grow. How much spice did Jude pour in there? A whole bottle of
chili?

I coughed.

“Is it too hot?” Jude asked, worried.

“No. It’s perfect.” I shook my head and wiped at the tears
trickling down my face. I didn’t know what was worse: the burning in my mouth
or the way the spices made my eyes and nose water. Or the fact that I had no
idea how to tell her that her cooking truly and utterly sucked. Big time.
Through my foggy vision, I watched Jude take a bite and immediately stop
chewing. Her eyes popped wide open and red splotches dotted her cheeks as she
began to wave her hands in front of her mouth.

I laughed. She looked like a dragon about to spit fire.

“You should have said something,” she whispered in
mortification.

“What? And spoil seeing the look on your face?” I laughed
again. “No way. Besides, it’s not
that
bad.”

It was worse than anything I had ever tried in my life.
Counting the fact that Jude and I had been roommates for years, that said a lot
about just how bad it was.

“I’m not eating it. And neither are you.” She snatched away
my plate before I could pretend to want to take another bite.

“I’m so sorry. This cooking thing isn’t for me. I swear this
is going to be my last attempt ever.” She shot me a hesitant smile, and I
nodded even though she had made that same promise so many times before, I had
lost count. “Ready to order pizza?”

“Are you sure? Maybe once it’s cooled down…” I trailed off.

To be honest, I couldn’t wait to see her concoction safely
tucked in the bin, but the beauty of friendship is you don’t hurt each other’s
feelings. And so I settled on telling a little white lie, which wasn’t really
that much of a lie, because, if I focused hard enough and imagined myself in a
nice restaurant, Jude’s meal almost tasted bearable.

Jude shook her head decisively. “No. I’m ordering pizza.”

Thank God!

How could I argue with so much determination?

“If that’s what you want. The gesture’s all that counts.” I
handed her the phone and watched her speed-dial. As she turned away I snapped a
quick picture of her
cooking disaster on my
phone, figuring a scrapbook was the perfect Christmas gift. She’d be both
mortified and laughing her head off at the same time. And it would be the best
reminder never to try Thai again.

BOOK: The Agreement (An Indecent Proposal)
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