Marriage With Benefits

By: Kat Cantrell


Other single, twenty-five-year-old women dreamed of marriageable men and fairy-tale weddings, but Dulciana Allende dreamed of a divorce.

And Lucas Wheeler was exactly the man to give it to her.

Cia eyed her very male, very blond and very broad-shouldered target across the crowded reception hall. The display of wealth adorning the crush between her and Lucas bordered on garish. A doddering matron on her left wore a ring expensive enough to buy a year’s worth of groceries for the women’s shelter where Cia volunteered.

But then, if Cia had the natural ability to coax that kind of cash out of donors, she wouldn’t be here in the middle of a Dallas society party, where she clearly did not belong, about to put plan B into action.

There was no plan C.

She knocked back the last swallow of the froufrou drink some clueless waiter had shoved into her hand. After she’d put considerable effort into securing a last-minute invitation to Mrs. Wheeler’s birthday party, the least she could do was play along and drink whatever lame beverage the Black Gold Club pretended had alcohol in it. If she pulled off this negotiation, Mrs. Wheeler would be her future mother-in-law, and Cia did want to make a favorable impression.

Well, Mrs. Wheeler was also her future ex-mother-in-law, so perhaps the impression didn’t matter overly much.

A guy near the bar tried to catch her eye, but she kept walking. Tonight, she cared about only one man and, conveniently, he stood next to his mother greeting guests. Cia’s unfamiliar heels and knee-binding slim dress slowed her trek across the room. Frustrating but fortunate, since a giraffe on roller blades had her beat in the grace department.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Wheeler.” Cia shook the hand of the stylish, fifty-something woman and smiled. “This is a lovely party. Dulciana Allende. Pleased to meet you.”

Mrs. Wheeler returned the smile. “Cia Allende. My, where has the time gone? I knew your parents socially. Such a tragedy to lose them at the same time.” She clucked maternally.

Cia’s smile faltered before she could catch it. Of course Mrs. Wheeler had known her parents. She just didn’t know Cia’s stomach lurched every time someone mentioned them in passing.

“Lucas, have you met Cia?” Mrs. Wheeler drew him forward. “Her grandfather owns Manzanares Communications.”

Cia made eye contact with the man she planned to marry and fell headfirst into the riptide of Lucas Wheeler in the flesh. He was so…everything. Beautiful. Dynamic. Legendary. Qualities the internet couldn’t possibly convey via fiber-optic lines.

“Miz Allende.” Lucas raised her hand to his lips in an old-fashioned—and effective—gesture. And set off a whole different sort of lurch, this time someplace lower. No, no, no. Attraction was not acceptable. Attraction unsettled her, and when she was unsettled, she came out with swords drawn.

“Wheeler.” She snatched her hand from his in a hurry. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who so closely resembles a Ken doll.”

His mother, bless her, chatted with someone else and thankfully didn’t hear Cia’s mouth working faster than her brain. Social niceties weren’t her forte, especially when it came to men. How had she fooled herself into believing she could do this?

Lucas didn’t blink. Instead, he swept her from head to toe with a slow, searching glance that teased a hot flush along her skin. With an amused arch to one brow, he said, “Lucky for me I’ve got one up on Ken. I bend all sorts of ways.”

Her breath gushed out in a flustered half laugh. She did not want to like him. Or to find him even remotely attractive. She’d picked him precisely because she assumed she wouldn’t. As best as she could tell from the articles she’d read, he was like the Casanovas she’d dated in college, pretty and shallow.

Lucas was nothing but a good-time guy who happened to be the answer to saving hundreds of women’s lives. This marriage would help so many people, and just in case that wasn’t enough of a reason for him to agree to her deal, she’d come armed with extra incentives.

That reassuring thought smoothed out the ragged hitch to her exhale. Refocusing, she pasted on a smile. His return smile bolstered her confidence. Her business with Lucas Wheeler was exactly that—business. And if she knew anything, it was business. If only her hands would stop shaking. “To be fair, you do look better in a suit than Ken.”

“Now, I’d swear that sounded like a compliment.” He leaned in a little and cocked his head. “If our parents knew each other, how is it we’ve never met?”

His whiskey-drenched voice stroked every word with a lazy Texas drawl that brought to mind cowboys, long, hard rides in the saddle and heat. She met his smoky blue eyes squarely and locked her knees. “I don’t get out much.”