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A Husband for Christmas by Brown, Beau (1)

Chapter One

 

Rider

I was doing the right thing.

Sure, this was a crazy idea; marrying an alpha I’d never met. But I was twenty-eight, and if I didn’t have a baby soon, I was going to be an outcast. I’d wasted four years on Dale, and in the end, he’d run off with that fucking omega from the Hot Toddy strip club. Why had I listened to him when he’d promised to marry me? He’d lied and lied for years, and I’d swallowed all of them. Jesus, I needed to have my head examined. Had I thought I couldn’t do any better or something? Of course I could have done better than an alpha who’d cheated on me the entire time I was with him. Why had I been so afraid to leave him? Was being alone that scary? It was hard for an omega on their own, yeah, but not impossible. I guess I had loved him… at one time. He’d been charming when he’d wanted to be.

But none of that mattered now, because I was alone, almost thirty, and childless.

I stared at the two story home I was parked in front of. It was beautiful; red brick Georgian style with white shutters. It was huge too. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town. Not a luxury apartment either. Could I picture myself living here? Not really. I hadn’t come from money; my family had always struggled to put food on the table. But maybe it was time I tried to expand my horizons. Why shouldn’t I live in a big home and experience the finer things in life? Marrying an alpha I didn’t know, and giving him children should certainly come with some perks for me.

I forced myself to leave the car, trying to ignore the stress eating away at my gut. Maybe this guy wouldn’t even like me. After all, if the alpha wasn’t interested in me, the deal was off. If either one of us didn’t want to proceed, that was that. The thought of that gave me some comfort, but it also made me nervous. If this alpha didn’t want me, that left me at square one all over again.

It had been embarrassing enough going to that matchmaker Lucinda Littlebottom. Her name was ridiculous, but she had an excellent reputation for finding respectable husbands for single omegas. In our alpha omega society, if you weren’t claimed and popping out kids by thirty, you might as well give up. Generally speaking, none of the quality alphas wanted older omegas. Couldn’t really blame them. They too had the pressure to procreate and carry on their family name. The older the omega, the harder it was for them to get pregnant and carry to term. While Lucinda had seemed willing to help, she hadn’t exactly been enthusiastic. She’d explained I was closer to thirty than most of her successful clients, and I’d left her office feeling hopeless. Surprisingly though, she’d actually called me two weeks later with a prospective alpha.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this alpha had something wrong with him, and that was why he was willing to consider an older omega. Was he disfigured, or maybe he was sick? Perhaps he hated kids, but felt compelled to have offspring anyway.

Well I was here now. Might as well meet the guy and see what was up. I straightened my spine and strode to the front door, inhaling the earthy scent of freshly cut grass. The grounds of the home were immaculate; the grass was a healthy chartreuse even though it was winter, and the roses trimmed to perfection. To be honest, the front of the house was almost too perfect. I preferred roses that were allowed to grow wild, and to me those pink and yellow flowers should have been encouraged to curl around the white fence that surrounded the wrap around porch. There weren’t even any Christmas decorations and it was only two weeks until the holiday. That almost seemed sacrileges with such a big, beautiful home. The structure would have looked magnificent all decked out with colored lights, and animated reindeer on the lawn.

Enough stalling.

I sucked in a steadying breath, and knocked on the huge oak door. After a short wait, the door opened, and a statuesque woman with sharp features stood there. She reminded me a bit of the housekeeper from the movie Rebecca; Mrs. Danvers. Her hair was as black as onyx with two silver streaks at the front, and pulled back in a severe style. She wore a plain black dress and a pearl necklace. She offered me a stiff smile, but there was no warmth behind it.

“Hello, I’m here to see Jax.” I tried to smile, but my face felt like it was about to crack.

“You mean Mr. Hamilton?” she asked politely.

Oops.

I was off to a great start when the staff was already scolding me. Well, I’d never had servants or housekeepers. My parents’ home had always welcomed visitors, and few people had ever called my dad, Mr. Jones. He’d never have stood for it. Everybody had loved my dad. He’d made everyone feel as though they were his best friend within an hour of meeting him. I’d never quite mastered the art of making others gravitate to me because of my charm, and judging by the expression of this Mrs. Danvers clone, she was far from beguiled by me.

“Sorry. Yes. Mr. Hamilton should be expecting me.”

Looking down her long, thin nose, she asked, “And, you are?”

“Rider Jones.”

“Ahhh yes. Come in.” She stood aside, lifting her chin. “I’m Emilia Carlson. Mr. Hamilton’s personal assistant.”

“Hello.” I stepped into the large foyer, noticing marble tile floors and mahogany wainscoting. With every passing moment I became more and more confused about why Jax Hamilton would need to use a matchmaker to find an omega. He obviously had wealth, and that usually made it easier to attract people.

“Follow me.” She swiveled on her heel and strode across the wide entrance down a long hall. I hurried to keep up, glancing at huge oil paintings that adorned the walls. The decor was elegant and museum like. I had to wonder if perhaps Mr. Hamilton would be the same. Would he have cobwebs hanging from his nose, and creak when he walked? Lucinda Littlebottom had given me no information about Jax Hamilton, other than to say he was rich and willing to meet. I almost bumped into Emilia when she stopped suddenly in front of a door.

She knocked, and listened. “Mr. Hamilton? Your four o’clock appointment has arrived.”

There was a muffled, “Come in.” And she opened the door, waving me in.

When I entered the room, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. In the corner a fire crackled cheerfully, but that was about the only jolly thing in the room. Dark burgundy drapes covered the windows, and one solitary lamp glowed on a giant desk across the room. All the furniture in the room reminded me of the rest of the house; big, expensive and a little bit much.

A tall man unfolded from a chair and approached. The minute my gaze met his, something stirred inside me. I was surprised at the immediate punch of attraction, and I did my best to hide it. Mr. Hamilton was definitely not an old man with cobwebs hanging from his nose. He was gorgeous, with broad shoulders and dark intense eyes. When he held out his hand, I wiped mine on my thigh first, feeling self-conscious. He was sophisticated perfection, and I felt like a pauper begging for food in his presence.

“Rider, is it?” His voice was deep, his palm cool and firm against mine.

I nodded, having trouble speaking. I felt strangely intimidated by him. “Shall I call you Mr. Hamilton or Jax?” I gave an uneasy glance toward Emilia.

His lips twitched, but he didn’t actually smile. “I don’t think formality is necessary, under the circumstances.”

Emilia gave me an unimpressed look and left the room.

“I don’t think she likes me,” I muttered, glancing after her.

“She takes a while to warm up to people.”

“Something tells me there isn’t enough time in the world for her to warm to me.” I ran a hand over my hair, looking around the big room. “You have an… impressive home.”

He twisted his lips as he studied me. “Shall we sit?”

“Sure.” I followed him toward the velvet couches, and settled uneasily across from him. I hadn’t pictured anyone as reserved as him. I’d assumed someone looking for a mate would be warmer, maybe more welcoming. But I felt as if I was at a job interview, not meeting a prospective mate. “So, what do you do for a living? Must pay well.”

He crossed his legs, folding his clasped hands on his lap. “I’ve reaped the rewards of being born into the Hamilton Family. The Hamilton’s have always had money, and this home has been passed down through all the generations.”

“Did you redecorate when you inherited this home? Or is this your taste?”

He frowned. “You don’t like the decor?”

“I didn’t say that. It’s very… sophisticated.”

Dracula would love it.

“What was the word you used earlier? Impressive?” His expression was impossible to read.

My cheeks warmed. “I meant no disrespect.”

“Maybe not, but I get the feeling you’re uncomfortable.”

Shrugging, I said, “Let’s just say my place of residence is much humbler.”

He nodded. “Yes. You live over in the Garland Apartments, right?”

Shocked he’d know that, I said, “I do. I’m surprised you know where I live.”

He lifted one shoulder. “I had someone look into your background.”

“Seriously?” I frowned, not quite sure I liked the idea he’d been snooping around in my personal business. We hadn’t even met yet, seemed like that was only something he’d do if we decided to move forward with each other.

“You don’t approve?”

“Surely Mrs. Littlebottom assured you I’m not a mass murderer or anything.” I kept my voice pleasant. Things were awkward enough without getting in an argument.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t sit outside your house and record your conversations.” His tone was droll. “I simply wanted to make sure you are who you say you are. Mrs. Littlebottom seems very trusting.”

“Find any skeletons?” I sounded sharper than intended.

“No. Were they there and my guy just missed them?” He quirked a brow.

I laughed, mostly because I didn’t know how else to react. “I don’t have any deep dark secrets.” I narrowed my eyes. “How about you? This house would be the perfect place to live if you were a mass murderer. Lots of acreage to bury the bodies.”

For the first time since I’d met him, he smiled. It was beautiful too, and I couldn’t imagine why he didn’t do it more often. His entire face lit, and he looked ten years younger. “There are no bodies.”

“That’s great news; I have no secrets, and you aren’t a serial killer.”

“I guess that makes us a perfect match.”

“Other than we’re complete strangers,” I said softly.

“Everyone is, until they aren’t.”

I smirked. “How very philosophical.”

Biting his lower lip, he said, “I thought when you first walked in, you might be too passive. But I can see I misjudged you.”

“I’m not passive.” I held his dark gaze, a little thrill of excitement buzzing through me. He was incredibly attractive. If we went ahead with this agreement, we’d have sex. Suddenly the thought of that wasn’t nearly as depressing as it had been earlier in the day. I wasn’t someone who just jumped into bed with people, but it had been a while, and Jax was insanely appealing. Physically at least.

He cleared his throat. “So you’re a teacher?”

“Yes. I teach high school. Art. Didn’t your spy tell you that?”

“He wasn’t a spy, and I knew you taught, but I didn’t know what subject.” He leaned forward. “Would you like a drink?”

I licked my dry lips. “Actually, yeah, that sounds great.”

“Adult beverage or?” He stood.

“What are you having?” I stayed where I was.

“Whiskey.” He arched a brow. “Should I get you a soft drink?”

I smiled. “No. I’ll have a whiskey too.”

He moved to a wet bar a few feet away, and poured us each a generous serving of the amber liquid.

When he handed me my crystal glass, I said, “You have to pour your own drinks? How barbaric.”

His chuckle was husky, and my pulse responded by speeding up. “Does my wealth make you uneasy?” he asked, sitting back where he’d been before. He sipped his drink, watching me over the rim of the glass.

“No.”

“You sure?”

The whiskey burned a trail down my throat, and I sighed. “I guess your wealth does make me wonder why someone like you would have gone to a matchmaker.”

He laughed. “I’m not a king. I’m just filthy rich.”

“Which makes me even more certain you’d have omegas lining up at the door, if you announced you’re looking for an omega.” I took another sip.

His expression became more guarded. “I want a business relationship. Not a love relationship.”

I stilled. “Okay.”

“I need an heir. You need to have kids while you’re still under thirty. It seemed like maybe we were a good fit.”

“Would I just visit you in your bedchamber when you’re in the mood?’ I snorted a laugh.

His jaw tensed. “This isn’t a joke.”

“I know.”

“You seem flippant.”

Wincing, I said, “It’s a defense mechanism. Don’t take it personally.”

His mouth twitched. “You’re nothing like I expected.”

“Is that good or bad?”

His laugh was heartfelt. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

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