Title: Unconditional You
Series: Stupid Awesome Love #5
Author: Ceri Grenelle
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 25, 2019
A marriage of convenience is their second chance at love.
With debt threatening to bury me, I have no choice but to fall back on my mother’s lessons and marry a man for money. I’ve got an in with the wealthiest bachelor in town, but I have to go through his Chief of Staff, Kai, before I can even meet the Nilsson heir. Which sucks, because a long time ago Kai promised to run away with me, then left me at the train station with no word. I’m still not over it.
To my friends, I’m Kai. To the world at large, I’m Bobby Nilsson, mysterious and reclusive heir to the Nilsson fortune. I inherit my parents’ money at the end of the year under a single condition: A wife. There’s only one woman who might be able to convince the world she loves me. The only problem? Celeste doesn’t know that Kai and Nilsson are one and the same. Not to mention she hates me. What’s a billionaire heir to do?
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“This is quite the reunion then.”
“One I would have avoided if possible.”
“You said you have business to discuss? I’m so intrigued.” His facetiousness, which was once fun, has now turned biting. We’re on opposite sides, no longer partners in crime.
“I want to meet Mr. Nilsson, and you’re going to introduce me.”
“I don’t know who Nilsson is. And he doesn’t go by Mr. Nilsson.”
I sigh at the obvious misstep. He knows what he’s doing.
“If you don’t know him then how do you know he doesn’t go by Mr. Nilsson?”
“You said you don’t know him, so how do you know the nomenclature he prefers?”
“All staff are briefed on the host.”
“And you’re just a regular, nobody, member of the staff.”
“Yes. That’s me—”
“Sir!” A young man in a waiter’s tux bursts through the patio doors. “The caterer is freaking out. She can’t find her late-night peanut butter and jelly puff pastries.”
“Why are you asking me?” he asks stiffly without looking away from me. “Why would I know where the caterer’s puff pastries are?”
The kid looks like the waiter is a world-class idiot and speaks very slowly, a thick New York accent peeking out.
“Because you’re the chief of staff, which you made us repeat back to you three times in a row. In unison.”
He glances at me, and I raise my eyebrow, a victorious but subtle gesture.
He turns back to the boy, clearing his throat.
“Tell the caterer to check the walk-in in the second kitchen. Some of the overflow went there.”
“Thanks.” The kid is gone as fast as he arrived.
Kai’s expression is as innocent as a newborn baby taking a shit.
“Surely the chief of staff, the representative of the man of the house, knows and has met his boss.”
He folds his hand behind his back, rocks on his feet.
“Even if I do know Nilsson a little, why would I agree to arrange a meeting?”
“Because I have something he wants.”
“And what’s that?”
“A life away from the spotlight. Away from the people he hates. An easy life with no expectations.”
He stops moving, his eyes narrowing. “What exactly are you proposing?”
“Just that. A proposal. Of marriage.”
He stares at me, his eyes wide, and then he laughs. I knew he would, the idea so outrageous and outdated. But I have my sources, and I know Nilsson is as desperate as I am. I keep my expression neutral, unaffected by his reaction.
“There are at least a hundred women,” he says, finally composing himself, “inside that ballroom that want to provide what you’re suggesting. What makes you think you have anything to offer? Your family reputation is tarnished, thanks to that article. What advantage could you give Nilsson?”
He’s listening. Time for my pitch.
“Those women come with rules and expectations. They want his name and the privilege that brings. They want him at their side at galas, showing him off like a fucking engagement ring or a puppy with a diamond collar.”
“What do you come with?”
“Freedom. The freedom for Nilsson to do whatever the fuck he wants. Stay holed up in this mansion. Travel the world. Never see me, not once. I’ll agree to anything he wants, as long as I get what I want.”
“He’s already free. He’s richer than Croesus—”
“Which I hear will change if he doesn’t marry by the end of the year.”
If silence could kill, Kai’s weapon of choice would be made of a narrow looks.
“How do you know that?”
Play it cool. Hook him and trap him.
“I have my sources.”
We face off for a moment, the tension riding us, stirring us. Eventually he shrugs, acting nonchalant.
“It doesn’t matter. Even with that knowledge, you don’t have anything special to offer. You don’t know him, and he doesn’t want just anyone.”
“You’re right. No one knows him or what he wants. I don’t know what happened to him after his parents’ death, what made him the way he is now. Maybe he’s disfigured or crippled or just really really shy. Maybe he’s a drag queen by night, and he knows at least a quarter of the men and women in there won’t give to his charities anymore if they discover his true self. I don’t know why, and I don’t need to know. I don’t care. I want one thing.”
He doesn’t ask, and I don’t wait for him to. I don’t need his permission or his acknowledgment.
You don’t own me.
“I want the money.”
He takes a step back, disgust clear on his face, even in the dim light of the patio.
“Of course you do. Christ.”
“I want a limited amount, and I’m willing to sign a contract, a prenup, whatever he thinks necessary.”
“That’s for Mr. Nilsson and me to discuss.”
He shakes his head and the disappointed expression almost makes me waver. Almost.
“You’re just like them,” he grits out.
“What did you think I’d become after you disappeared?”
It’s the only memory I let slip, the only sign I’m angry at him and still holding a grudge.
His eyes are fathomless as he takes me in. “Better.”
He turns on a stiff heel, and as he walks out, calls back, “Nilsson will be in touch.”
“How? A text?” I lay on the sarcasm, thick and cynical.
He pauses, his hand hovering over the doorknob lightly, no sign seeing me has had any effect on him at all.
“Email. Cell service isn’t very reliable around these parts.”
“Just like the people here. What a life he must live.”
He grins. It’s cold. So unlike anything I remember. “Life is the ultimate delivery system for disillusionment.”
With a snap of the door frame, he’s gone.
I sag against the railing and down my glass of champagne. The alcohol burns and carbonation fills my lungs like balloons.
There. It’s done.
The wheels are in motion. I’m on my way to seeing the arts program finally succeed, and I survived a meeting with Kai.
Not half bad for a night’s work.
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Ceri is the author of quirky and sexy contemporary romance novels. She has a major weakness for sappy cuddle moments as much as hot and steamy sex scenes, and a penchant for writing snappy and sarcastic dialogue. She loves romance that isn’t afraid to be awkward and uncouth, and thrives on flawed characters with big hearts.
A New York native, Ceri now lives in California with her two cats, Mercy and Eugene Fitzherbert, who should be very thankful she didn’t name him frying pan. She is a proud functioning introvert and lover of all things geeky. You can find her haunting the Twitter machine or posting pictures of her ridiculous cats on Instagram.
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