Kindergarten teacher Johanna hates Valentine's Day. She hates romance, hates commercialism, and definitely hates her school's annual charity date auction. She never expects her pre-auction night of drinking to land a sexy Brit in her bed. Or for that Brit to show up at the auction, bid thousands just to talk to her again, and then get down on one knee in front of everyone and ask her to marry him.
Viscount Damon Hayes has never met anyone like Johanna. She's neurotic, fascinating, and fun. She also doesn't care about his title and doesn't want his money, which makes Johanna perfect to fulfill a surprise clause in his father's will: marry within three months and remain married for a year, or lose his fortune. A relationship is out of the question, but when passions ignite and the two fall in love, their marriage of convenience becomes anything but.
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Valentine's Day, 2011
The moment she rolled over, Johanna regretted last night.
It wasn't just the bright light stabbing through her window and straight into her eyes. It wasn't even the pounding headache that made her fairly certain she'd drunk the entire contents of the bar last night. Hell, it wasn't even that it was Valentine's Day, the entire reason she and her friends had decided to toast the town with a lot of drinking and less dancing — on her part, anyway.
No, it was the bright green eyes and handsome face looking back at her, and the small smile on pulse-poundingly full lips.
Son of a bitch.
"Oh," Johanna said. "Oh, crap."
"Hey there." British accent. Her weakness. "I'm sorry, but I don't remember your name. I'm —"
Raising a hand, she groaned and sat up, pulling the sheet over her chest. Her hip rubbed against something hard and hot, and coarse body hair. Shoot me. Shoot me now.
"We probably didn't share names," she responded. "Look. I don't usually do this. Let's skip the uncomfortable bullshit and say goodbye."
His lips quirked. "For someone who doesn't do this a lot, you sure have the 'get the hell out of my apartment' speech figured out."
She stared him down. The withering look that could cow every kindergarten student she'd ever taught had zero effect on him. He only stared back at her, raising a brow.
"Please," she said. Mortification made her curt. "Get out."
He chuckled. "You Americans are quite bossy, you know."
She hid her face in her raised knees. "Yep."
"Don't you know who I am?"
She snorted and rolled her eyes. Typical egotistical male. "Didn't we already cover this?"
She heard a chuckle, followed by the rustle of clothing. Peek. No, don't peek. Don't peek at all. She couldn't. She wasn't that kind of woman. She held her breath and kept her head down until she heard the rasp of a zipper.
When she looked up he was standing at her bedside, offering a business card. "If you ever want to —"
"Nope. Keep your card."
He shook his head. "Happy Valentine's Day."
Her fingers clenched against a pillow. Another word out of his mouth, and she'd throw it at his head. "Yeah. Same to you."
Giving her one last lingering look, he left. She held her breath until she heard the front door click shut. She sucked in a whoosh of air and collapsed back on the bed.
Who had he been? Whoever he was, he'd been absolutely delicious — and she hoped she never saw him again. She was just that girl to him, now. Well, as much as an uptight OCD teacher could ever be that girl to anyone.
It figured. The first time she let loose, and she couldn't even remember what she'd done.
A hot shower didn't help, or ease her screaming headache. Hell, neither did the coffee, Motrin, or clean clothing, and by the time Johanna made it to work, she was ready to kill someone. Anyone.
To top it off, Rowling Elementary looked like a nightmare. Red paper hearts everywhere. Streamers. Jaunty love songs on the intercom, adding their shrill notes to the splitting sound of the bells. Would it really be so bad if she set the whole place on fire?
Fuck Valentine's Day.
The Viscount Damon Haymes plucked the invitation from the chaos of paperwork on his desk and eyed it with dismay.
"Can't I just send them the money?" he asked. "It seems distasteful to purchase a woman for the night. And on Valentine's night, of all nights."
"That's the point." Sprawling on the plush leather couch, Jeff smirked. "All these single women need something to distract them from their melancholy lives on a night when everyone else is getting laid."
"You're such an asshole," Damon said, fighting back a smile. "An unfortunately correct asshole. I still don't see why I can't donate the money and walk away. Bloody hell, I doubt any of these women will be under the age of sixty."
"You never know. You might get lucky."
"With an octogenarian? God, I loathe these affairs."
"Yep. But it's all for the greater good."
"Says the man who doesn't have to go." Damon muttered under his breath.
"Your father loved these events," Jeff said.
"I'm sure he did. But when Mom died, he just spent the last three years trying to keep busy." Damon's eyes burned at the thought of his parents. Though his father had died a mere six months ago, he still felt the loss of both of them far too strongly. "I guess I might get why, now."
Jeff gave him a sad smile. He cleared his throat and said, "So you're going to make me come out and ask. What happened last night? Who was she? Was she any good?"
Damon fought back a grin. Leave it to Jeff to change the subject at the first sign of emotion. "Don't know, don't know, and you don't need to know."
"Aw, she sucked, huh?" Jeff replied, propping his elbow on his leg. "Didn't know her way around a Brit's body? American men are much different, I've heard. Brits are pale and scrawny. Unlike myself."
Damon glanced down at his own flat stomach and quirked a brow. "Really?"
"Yes. Just look at you. It's sick how scrawny you are." Jeff gave him a once over. "Girls as hot as that one need real men. Men who know how to treat them between the sheets."
Damon rose to his feet, taking a step closer to Jeff. He towered over his best friend by at least five inches. "You seem to be a bit confused."
Jeff laughed and clapped his shoulder.
"So, what happened?"
"She had no clue who I was," Damon said.
"Yeah, right," Jeff scoffed. "A good actress, you mean?"
"No." Damon glared. "She woke up, saw me, and told me to get the hell out. Wouldn't even tell me her bloody name."
Jeff blinked — and burst into hysterical laughter. "Holy shit," he managed. "She ki — she kicked you out?"
Damon clenched his fists, shoulders stiff. Growling, he punched Jeff's shoulder. "If you don't knock it off ..."
Wheezing, Jeff collapsed into a chair and rubbed his eyes. "I have to meet her. Take me to her."
Damon rolled his eyes. "Really, why do I bother with you? She didn't give me her bloody name. She barely said one word to me aside from 'get out.' I doubt I'll see her again."
"It's a shame. It's not often you get to be normal. You can't go to the crapper without someone panting after you."
Damon shrugged, clenching his jaw. The woman had intrigued him in more ways than one, and it irked him she'd refused to even think about seeing him again. What had he done to make her reject him so harshly? They'd had a mutually satisfying night of sex — and he knew she had enjoyed herself, thank you — so why had she felt the need to get rid of him so fast?
He forced a smile. "No big deal. We had fun. It's over. I'm sure I'll find another girl soon enough."
After all, they loved to throw themselves at him.
Jeff gnawed at his lower lip. "I could always do some digging. Find out whose family she's from."
Damon held up his hand. "She's not from a family we'd know. She lived in a tiny apartment on the other side of town. Not a mansion."
"I could still figure out —"
"No," Damon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's get ready for this blasted charity event so I can go the hell home. I've got a bloody headache."
"Maybe there'll be a hot teacher there, waiting to be rescued." Jeff said. "I'm so there."
"I know. Oh, by the way, I finished the paperwork you left on my desk. You're good to go," Jeff said.
Damon smiled. "Good. All those words smashed together were making my head ache."
"It's called a legal document. It's supposed to have words — not pictures." Jeff shook his head.
A knock at the door interrupted them. Damon raised an eyebrow. "Are you expecting someone?"
Shrugging, Damon opened the door. A man, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, hovered outside. Sweat lined his upper lip, and his eyes shifted all about the room.
Immediately, Damon knew he didn't like him, but forced a polite smile anyway. "Can I help you, Mr. —?"
"Mr. Johnson. I'm a lawyer from your father's firm. I have to speak to you about his will." Handing Damon a business card, the short lawyer skirted around Damon's substantially larger frame like a scared little mouse.
Damon closed the door, shaking his head in disgust. He didn't recognize the man, but he must be the real thing if he'd made it past security.
"What is it now, Mr. Johnson? Yet another trivial detail that happened to slip through the cracks the ten other times you guys read the will to me?" His damn lawyer was always finding something "important" to inform him of — but why send a lackey this time?
As if he gave a bloody damn.
"Viscount Haymes, this business is —" Johnson cleared his throat, fidgeting with his briefcase. "— very delicate. Perhaps you should sit."
"I'd rather stand," Damon said coldly.
With a snort, Jeff took the papers from Johnson and scanned them. He paled. "No, Damon," he said, sinking into the closest chair. "You really need to sit down for this."
Johanna gulped another glass of champagne, smoothed her black satin dress, and told herself she wasn't trying to get drunk — again. Why would she want to be drunk, anyway? It wasn't like she was about to whore herself out for a bunch of rich sixty-somethings with more money than personal hygiene. It wasn't like the dress showed off things she'd rather keep hidden behind a pencil skirt and severe blouse. And it wasn't like Tim would be here tonight, smiling that million-dollar smile like she hadn't caught him banging a client. If he even thought about bidding on her tonight, she'd cut off his left nut.
God, she hated these events.
Plunking down the empty glass, she leaned closer to Sara. "Lucy looks like she came to snag a husband."
"Wouldn't you? Rich, old, and he'd only need to reach a hand up her skirt to get off. It's worth the inconvenience."
"Yeah, right. Let the bidding start. Geezer Number One, or Geezer Number Two?"
"Maybe the one scratching his armpit will swoop in and steal Lucy away," Sara whispered, gesturing to the nearest table. "You never know. He looks pretty feisty."
The man in question closed his eyes and let out a little snore. Sara and Johanna stifled giggles behind their hands. "Oh, God," Johanna mumbled. "This is horrible. I need to get married."
Sara clucked her tongue, shooting Johanna a hurt look. "And leave me here alone? Hell no. We're in this together. Till death do us part."
"I don't recall saying 'I do,'" Johanna whispered.
"And the lovely lady sells for three hundred dollars!" the announcer called out, pointing to the uncomfortable-looking woman on stage — like it wasn't obvious who he was talking about. Idiot.
The horrible audio crackled through the dimly lit room. Johanna clapped politely when Lucy descended the stage; the spotlight remained on Lucy the entire way. Johanna tugged the hem of her dress towards her knees, but it still didn't come even close to the general neighborhood of proper.
Johanna muttered, "I can't believe I let you put me in this thing."
"You look hot, and you know it."
"No, I don't. I look cold. And uncomfortable. And my dress is uneven!"
"It's supposed to be, you dolt," Sara said.
"Yeah, whatever," Johanna grumbled.
Sara grinned, motioning up at the stage. "You're next. Smile and look happy."
"I hate you right now."
Taking a deep breath, Johanna chugged Sara's untouched champagne.
"Next up," the announcer called out, "we have the oh-so-popular Johanna Thomas. Last year, Mr. Fortens bid six hundred dollars for her. Who will win the pleasure of her company tonight?"
Plastering on a smile, Johanna stood and worked her way to the stage. She tried to ignore the frantic beating of her heart.
If she had any luck left, she'd make it through the night without having to see —
"Three hundred dollars, for old time's sake."
Yep, she'd be in jail by midnight.
"Three hundred dollars to Mr. Tim Smith. Do I have three-fifty?"
Johanna scowled at Tim.
"Three-fifty, to the gentleman in the back. Do I have four hundred?" A slight pause. Tim raised his hand, and Johanna stomped her foot. "Four hundred to Mr. Smith. Four-fifty?"
Please, God, let someone outbid the bastard. Anyone. Hell, she'd even take the old guy counting his cash. Catching his eye, she smiled; let him think that smile meant he'd get more than forced, polite conversation over dinner, as long as he bid enough to make that tightwad Tim give up.
"Four-fifty to Mr. Davis. Five hundred, anyone?" the announcer called.
Tim grinned, raising his hand.
"Five hundred to Mr. Smith. Do I get five-fifty?"
The old man shrugged, tucking his money away and drinking his beverage. Desperation clawed its way through her like a knife. She'd have to sit beside Tim and not gouge his eyes out.
This would be the worst Valentine's Day ever.
"Going once ... twice ..."
"I bid two-thousand dollars," a voice called from the side. The British lilt washed over her. She whirled. Green eyes met hers from across the room, his lips pinched tightly. He looked ... angry.
Oh, God. Could this night get any worse? Of course the auction would result in the only two men she ever screwed fighting publicly over her. If ever a girl wished the floor would open up and swallow her, it had to be Johanna.
"Look, faggot, you're in America now, and you play by our rules," Tim glowered at her "rescuer." "You have to work your way up to the winning bid."
"Must I?" Her one-night stand turned to the announcer, raising a perfect eyebrow. "I'm willing to double the amount. For the sake of the charity, of course."
"Of course," the announcer echoed, flushing. "We'd be thrilled to accept y-your generosity. Four thousand for the lovely Johanna Thomas, to a Mr. ... uh, Mr. ...?"
"The Viscount Haymes — but feel free to call me Damon." He bowed. A hush went through the crowd, and people started whispering behind their hands. Damon sighed before turning to Johanna, smiling nonchalantly. "Ready, Johanna?"
Sara caught her eye, and Johanna shrugged. To hell with it. Her legs shook so badly she'd be lucky if she made it off stage without falling and making a complete fool out of herself. The damned spotlight blinding her certainly didn't help matters.
She took Damon's outstretched hand and, with her smile clamped firmly in place, muttered through her teeth, "Are you insane? You just wasted four thousand dollars on me."
Damon swept his eyes over her face and bosom. When she blushed, he grinned and said, "Wasted? I think not."
She allowed him to lead her out of the room and into the banquet hall. "Last night you had me for free, and —"
"Get over here, Johanna."
Tim dug his fingers into her elbow and jerked her away from Damon. She glared at him, yanking free. "Let go."
"You should belong to me. I had you fair and square," Tim growled.
Damon stepped closer, towering over them, his gaze flicking between Johanna and Tim. "Is there a problem here, Johanna?"
"Yes," she hissed. "Tim's an asshat who doesn't understand 'get out and stay out.'"
"Indeed?" Damon examined his nails, then offered Johanna his hand with a cool look. "Shall we, then?"
Johanna slipped her hand into his waiting palm. "Sure."
Tim leaned closer to snarl, "This isn't over yet."
Damon's hand tightened on hers. He spun on his heel and stalked toward Tim. "I suggest you mind your manners in the lady's presence."
"Lady?" Tim scoffed.
Johanna jerked Damon to a stop. "Don't bother. He's not worth the trouble."
With one last lingering look for Tim, Damon brushed past him and escorted Johanna to the private dining area reserved for auction winners. Only when they were out of earshot did he speak. "Who was that insufferable fool?"
Johanna avoided his eyes, scrunching up her nose. "An ex," she admitted reluctantly. "One who won't take no for an answer. Thanks, I guess. Even you're better than enduring another date with him."
"Why, thank you. I think." His lips quirked. "I'm happy to be of service. Shall we sit?"
Damon pulled out a chair at the nearest table, which was covered in rose petals and lit by little tea candles surrounding a crystal decanter. Nearby, an orchestra played soft music.
"Thank you," she murmured. Once he looked settled in, she raised a brow. "So ... Viscount, huh?"
A waiter poured their wine, then left when Damon motioned him away. Damon looked so regal that she had no problem imagining him in a castle next to a queen. Next to the goddamned crown jewels. Oh, why had she slept with him? She felt like a ... like a peasant.
Excerpted from "On One Condition"
Copyright © 2012 Diane Alberts.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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