Excerpt: BETWEEN MARRIAGE AND MERGER by Karen Booth

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Excerpt:

This was all too strange, an unromantic transaction. Lily dug around in her purse for a piece of gum, just to distract herself from this deeply uncomfortable subject.

“Sawyer, listen to yourself. We’re not doing that.” Noah grabbed his coat and slipped it on. The man had incredible shoulders, but the black wool brought out the strong line of them, enough to make her stifle a sigh. “If I give Lily a ring, she gets to keep it. I’m not asking for it back, even if this is fake.”

Lily’s heart broke out in a gallop, fierce and strong, like a young horse discovering it could run for as long and as far as it wanted to. That might have been the most romantic thing a man had ever said about her.

Even when his sweet sentiment was tied up with a satin bow called “fake”.

Sawyer stuffed his hands into his pockets. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. Lily, whatever you choose today, it’s yours to keep.”

“Oh. Well, thank you. I guess we’ll call it combat pay?”

Sawyer laughed. Noah did, too, but it was far less convincing and came only after his brother had started it. He seemed so tortured over this whole thing, it was impossible to feel good about it.

“I’m kidding. Of course. If I wanted combat pay, I’d ask for cash.” She smiled sweetly and got up from her desk, wishing there was a protocol somewhere for interactions with your fake fiancée and your fake future brother-in-law. She felt a bit like she was failing right now.

“You two have fun. Try not go get into too much trouble,” Sawyer said, heading back into his office.

“No promises,” Noah muttered. “And we’re going out to lunch afterward.”

“On the company dime?” Lily asked.

Noah unleashed a devilish smile. “Of course.” He then offered her his arm, which he held in midair while Lily struggled to keep up with what she was supposed to do. “Remember what Sawyer said. We need to act like someone is watching at all times.”

“Right.” She hooked hers in his and he snugged her against his body, sending a lovely shock right through her. One touch, through layers of coats no less, and she felt like her shoes might shoot right off her feet.

They took the stairs down to the street. Noah’s driver was waiting for them, standing outside the sleek black town car. He opened the door as they approached and Lily struggled to stay in the moment, to not let her consciousness become too detached from what was happening. This was a fantasy brought to life, and she should embrace the good parts. There would surely be bad moments when she would end up with flickers of regret over doing this crazy thing. For now, Noah Locke, Mr. Unattainable, was taking her to buy an engagement ring. She wanted to soak up every minute.

They got settled in the back seat. “Warm enough?” Noah asked.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.”

“Yes.” Wow. So this is what the world’s worst small talk is like.

“I was thinking…” He looked out the window and shook his head.

“What? You were thinking what?”

He turned back and looked at her so earnestly she thought she might disappear into his green eyes. “What do people do after they buy an engagement ring?”

Have sex? Lily thought for a second about putting it out there, but decided there were only so many inappropriate jokes she could make. That would not be professional. “I don’t know. Kiss?”

“Yes. Exactly.” He nodded a little too fast, almost as if he was nervous, which seemed impossible. She’d witnessed more human moments out of Noah in the last day than she’d ever seen before. It was nice. “And, obviously, we haven’t done that yet. I don’t think it should be awkward. It should seem natural, especially if anyone is taking a picture.”

She put her hand on his. “Right. Like Sawyer said.”

“Following orders.”

“He needs us to put on a good show. We should practice. At least once.” The instant she said it, the air crackled with electricity. She’d pushed things to the next level. With the help of some convenient excuses, of course.

Noah’s clever half smile crossed his lips, and his eyes swirled to a darker shade. The city whizzed by outside the window. Lily was overcome with the freeing feeling of being given permission to do something you shouldn’t. Kissing Noah was such a bad idea, but when you’d thought about a bad idea for two whole years, it was hard not to be excited by it. His hand slipped under her hair and around her neck. She sat straighter. She angled herself closer. Every nerve ending in her body was cheering him on. His thumb settled in the soft spot under her ear. His touch was more than warm. It was a superhuman zap of heat. It might turn her into something she’d never been before.

His lips parted ever so slightly and she raised her chin as he lowered his head. His hair slumped forward. She loved that. She’d fantasized a million times about running her hands through it, feeling the thick strands between her fingers and smoothing it back. She wanted to stare at him forever, but she also wanted to savor every delicious heartbeat of anticipation. Her eyes fluttered shut. When his mouth met hers, she waited for it to change her life, but it was a soft brush of a kiss. A first date kiss. An oh hi nice to meet you kiss. It was nice. So nice. But nice wasn’t going to cut it. Her body didn’t merely tell her so, it was screaming it in both ears. She slanted her head and pushed up from the seat, aiming her shoulders straight for his. He pulled back. Her eyes flew open. Their gazes connected, both of them searching. It was an entire deliberation about their next kiss, wrapped up in two seconds. He smiled. She swallowed. He was coming in for the real thing.

The next thing she knew, she had all ten fingers working into his hair. Her arms landed on his shoulders. His hand was molded around her hip, squeezing like he was trying to get down to the bone. Their lips were in a mad scramble, parted, making way for tongues to roam. In under two seconds, they’d gone from zero to sexy sixty. The kiss was flat-out reckless now, like neither of them cared about ramifications. She was a woman and he was the hottest man she’d ever set her eyes on. One well-placed rub and they might as well be dry tinder. A fire was inevitable.

Lily dropped one hand and worked her way inside Noah’s coat, which he’d been kind enough to leave unbuttoned. She palmed his firm chest, and even through layers of clothes—his suit coat, his shirt—she could feel the frantic pounding of his heart. She wanted nothing more than to experience that with bare skin against bare skin. Noah’s hand traveled down to her knee and under the hem of her skirt. Lily felt like she might burst into full flame. He didn’t waste a second, heading north, his palm caressing her stocking. Her heart was beating like a kid dragging a stick across a picket fence. He came to a dead stop when his thumb reached the top of her thigh-highs. Noah pulled back, breaking their kiss, breathless. Thankfully, his hand hadn’t moved.

“Are those?” His eyes were dark with a brew of lust and curiosity.

She nodded, her lips floating back to meet his and steal one more kiss. “I can’t stand regular panty hose,” she murmured against his mouth. She took a soft nip of his lower lip.

A low groan escaped his throat.

The divider between the driver and the back seat started to lower. Lily scrambled to find a more demure position. The driver, most likely accustomed to this scene, didn’t look at them. “Mr. Locke. We’re here at Tiffany.”

Noah gawked at Lily. Maybe he hadn’t expected her to go for it. Carpe diem, Mr. Locke. Carpe diem.

Blurb:

From boardroom to bedroom…and back?

Hotel magnate Noah Locke has worked too hard to let a PR scandal ruin the biggest deal of his career. If a fake engagement will fix his image, he’s in. So is Lily Foster, his assistant—and the one woman he’s wanted for years. Soon there’s nothing fake about their heated kisses and steamy nights together. Can this arrangement turn real…or is Lily playing for a different prize?

*Between Marriage and Merger is Book 3 of the Locke Legacy series. Book 1 is Pregnant by the Billionaire. Book 2 is Holiday Baby Bombshell. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but if you love the Locke family, you’ll want to read all three!

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