Sex, Lies and Contracts

By: Jennifer Probst

Chapter One

“You must marry her.”

Jack Alexander Woodward crossed one boot over another and leaned back in his leather chair. He glanced at the delicate woman across the room who shot fierce sparks of fury from her amber eyes. He’d been told by many women his mouth had a natural sulky pout made for sex, but those same lips were able to form a sneer that could intimidate the most demanding of females.

Unfortunately, the woman before him was his mother, and not the least bit afraid.

“Rachelle will be the perfect wife for you. I’ve been patient with you, Jack.”

Victoria Woodward set her teacup onto the rose bordered china plate and gave him the look she had designed from years of raising her only son. “I’ve let you go a bit wild and almost ruin the family name. I’ve been silent regarding your messy affairs and your crazy dreams of sailing the seas. But enough is enough, my dear. You will marry Rachelle by the end of the month and take your rightful place. You will have a son and pass down the family legacy to him.”

He remembered being little and easily admonished by her strict tone. His mother always managed to make him behave by some mysterious womanly power. He fought the urge to fidget in his chair and reminded himself he was thirty two years old, far past the age when he should listen to his mother. Yet, strange fear bubbled within as he looked into her face. Ever since his father passed away, she’d focused on obtaining Jack the perfect wife. At first, he thought it was a logical reaction to her husband leaving her alone. But as the months passed and she insisted on parading a bunch of rich, blue-blood sharks before him, he realized there could be more to the story.

A story with an ending he didn’t particularly want.

“Mother, don’t get me wrong. I understand you want me to settle down and marry. But I need to do this on my own terms. I don’t want some suitable companion who looks good on paper. I don’t want a breeder. I want someone I can love.”

Her eyes softened and pressure eased from his chest. But her words slammed through him like the proverbial nail in his own personal coffin.

“Jack, we’re out of time. If you don’t get married by the end of the month, your cousin will take over Castle Point. You will lose everything. The house, the money, the company. Everything.”

She took advantage of his stunned silence and continued. “I didn’t want you to know what your father had done. He was worried about you—about the legacy. He saw a man who didn’t want to grow up and assume responsibility, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. Your cousin is willing to settle down. Bryce is next in line, and he’s not afraid to get married. He wants to take over Woodward Shipping. You’ve always known that.”

The thought of his cousin sucker-punched him low in the gut. Oh, yes, Bryce had sniffed around his legacy his whole life. Always willing to step in when Jack ran off. Ever polite and accommodating to his parents, and consistently whispering sweet nothings in his father’s ear. Love words regarding Jack’s unwillingness to marry and take over the family company. Jack knew those intimate conversations had pushed his father to change the will. His cousin was closer than ever to getting everything his family owned. Everything that belonged to Jack.

Time was officially up.

Jack muttered a curse, ignoring his mother’s disapproving frown. He pushed himself off the chair and paced the thickly piled carpet. Pissed off at his family, but mostly at himself, he realized he’d sorely underestimated the impatience of his old man. The Woodwards, once a large family, were proud of their distinguished ancestry. But generations of uncles had pursued riches in America or adventures overseas, and Jack was the only direct heir to Castle Rock. Built on the site of his ancestors’ medieval castle, the manor house was a reminder of a time when duty surpassed individual wants.

For the Woodwards, that time had never ended. The owner of Castle Rock would also run Woodward Shipping Enterprises—the most successful maker and supplier of seagoing vessels in the country. All males of every generation before him had settled down with families in Castle Rock and run the family business. His legacy had been drummed into his mind since his toddler years.

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