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Claiming His Billion-Dollar Bride
Chapter One

Rose strode into Holt’s office, seized the calendar from the wall and counted the days down to the big red X marked in June. 

   Ninety days.

   Ninety days! What the freaking heck…?

   Flipping back, she counted again. Why had she left it so long?

   Tilly had married her Henri and was a princess—oozing ecstasy and joy as was her wont. Evie was blissfully married to Nate with a baby on the way. And now Anastasia, who she’d not have blamed for clutching her trust fund to her chest and running for the hills—

   She spun to glare at Holt’s chair, but she didn’t rant and rail at him as she had the day of his will-reading. She didn’t speak to him at all. ‘Beat the crap out of him, Pop,’ she murmured instead.

   She didn’t know if other people spoke to their dead, but she’d spoken to her grandfather ever since he’d died when she was nineteen. Her grandmother, not so much. Unless it was to point out the stupidity of all of Katherine’s previous strident advice. Her mother she’d chat to in the garden—telling her how her roses were coming along, describing the scent of the jasmine as the heat of a spring day cooled…telling her how much she missed her.

   Swinging away, she slapped the calendar against her leg before hanging it back on the wall. Ana hadn’t turned her back on them. Instead she was now married to her childhood friend, Connor, and so in love it hurt.

   Her sisters had all met the terms of that stupid conditional bequest. Which meant Rose was now last man—woman—standing. If she didn’t want to let her sisters down, she had to marry. If she didn’t want to lose her home, she had to marry.

   And the thought of losing Garrison Downs…

   Reaching up, she retied her ponytail with fingers that shook. She couldn’t let that happen.

   Glaring at the calendar, she tilted her chin. ‘Ninety days.’ Not impossible. She pushed her shoulders back and swallowed. ‘Piece of cake.’

   ‘Talking to yourself again, Rose?’

   Eve sauntered into the office in all her maternal contentment and smug in-loveness, and it made Rose want to laugh and wrap her sister in a bearhug. ‘I don’t get as much sense from anyone else.’ She nodded at Evie’s glorious baby bump. ‘But when you pop out my niece I might finally get some decent conversation around here.’

   Eve grinned, but sobered when she glanced at the calendar. ‘You don’t have to marry. You know that, right?’

   Just like Evie to cut straight to the chase. But…

   Of course she had to marry. It was the only honourable thing to do. With Evie finally making Garrison Downs her home again, after it had taken so long to lure her back… Oh, no, Rose wasn’t risking that.

   Reaching out, she traced a finger across that big red X. ‘But I believe I’m going to.’ She’d do whatever necessary to keep Garrison Downs.

   ‘You haven’t been on a single date in the last nine months. You spend all your time with cattle and stockmen—’ Evie broke off, eyes narrowing. ‘You can’t marry Aaron.’

   She turned, curious to hear her sister’s objections to her marrying Garrison Downs’ head stockman.  ‘Why not?’

   ‘He’s fifteen years older than you!’


   ‘And he’s being a pig to you at the moment.’

   ‘I have it in hand.’ Though, in truth, it was taking longer and proving trickier than expected. Holt would’ve had it sorted already—

   She cut the thought dead, but not before a bone-crushing weight slammed down on her shoulders.

   ‘And I saw him and Lindy looking very cosy the other night.’

   Ah, a romance was brewing between Aaron and their housekeeper…

   ‘Aaron was Plan B.’ And he could just as easily be replaced with Johnno or Nick or one of the other stockmen.

   ‘Then who on earth is Plan A?’

   Folding her arms, she leaned back against the desk, the plan that had been brewing in her mind for the last few months emerging in a starburst of decision. ‘Lincoln Garrison.’ Energy powered through her when she said his name, lifting the weight from her shoulders and tossing it to the four winds.

   ‘Linc Garrison?’ Evie’s jaw dropped. ‘Are you mad?’


‘Okay, Rose, you’re going to be cool, calm and collected.’ Dragging in a breath, Rose did all that she could to turn herself into the epitome of unflappable self-possession.

   Don’t forget sassy.

   The façade slipped. What the hell…? ‘No!’ The word echoed in the chopper’s tiny cabin. Jeez, this was real life, not a soap opera.

   Go on, Lincoln would like sassy. Channel your favourite soap-opera heroines.

   A reluctant smile tugged at her lips. What she was about to do would make a great plot line in any of her beloved soaps—The Bold and the Beautiful, Coronation Street, Home and Away—but she needed to keep things sensible and businesslike.

   And that was what this was—a business proposition. Marrying Lincoln would safeguard Garrison Downs’ future. What was more, it would help her accomplish another objective. If she and Lincoln married, if they came to know one another better—and in an ideal world became friends—they could bring the ridiculous feud between their families to an end.

   In the scrub below a mob of kangaroos were startled from their morning siesta and scattered, their red-grey coats gleaming in the sun. From her current position, she couldn’t see a single dwelling, though one of their stock camps would soon come into view. The cattle stations in the South Australian outback were seriously isolated. Out here neighbours ought to pull together. It’d be in both Garrison Downs’ and Kalku Hills’ best interests, and the district’s, if she and Lincoln could learn to work together.

   And while she’d never say it out loud, not even under the threat of torture, she couldn’t help wondering if the Waverlys owed the Garrisons some kind of reparation. The way Louisa May had acquired the station, the bad blood it had created…the rumours that Louisa May Waverly had cheated Cordelia Garrison of the land. None of it had sat well with her.

   Forty minutes later she landed the chopper in the home paddock of Kalku Hills, as Lincoln had directed her to in his email. She noted his blue Cessna parked on the airstrip to her left and an army of butterflies gathered beneath her breastbone.

   Don’t be silly. She had nothing to be nervous about. She was simply presenting a business proposition. Nothing more. Be cool. Be calm. Be businesslike.

   As if her thoughts had conjured him, Lincoln appeared on the homestead’s veranda, ready to welcome her. A giant of a man at six feet four, and all of it broad hard muscle. Folding his arms, he leaned against a veranda post and she let out a long, slow breath.

   Lincoln’s movements were always unhurried, almost lazy, as if he had all the time in the world. As if it was too much of an effort to exert himself. Even when playing cricket he preferred to hit a boundary over pushing himself to run.

   Today he wore suit trousers and a business shirt, and she thanked whatever God had prompted Evie to insist that she wear a little black skirt and a pale blue blouse. And black court shoes that were immediately covered in red dust when she leapt down to the ground.

   She might not be at home in the fancy rags, but she was at home in the red dust. And while the business proposition she’d come to discuss might not be conventional, it was practical…and sound. And it was time.

   Giving herself no further time to rehearse what she’d say, or consider what Lincoln’s reaction might be once she’d said it, Rose moved in the direction of the homestead and the man waiting there, his hair glinting gold in the sunlight.

   The homestead at Kalku Hills was sandstone, and it was big and beautiful in its own way. But it wasn’t built on the same scale as the Garrison Downs homestead. There were no gardens, no pool, no frills. Though, as Clay’s wife—Lincoln’s mother—had left him twenty years ago, Rose suspected creature comforts weren’t a high priority for the Garrison men.

   ‘It’s nice to see you, Rose.’

   Lincoln held out his hand when she reached him and she shook it, her mouth going dry. It was always like this, the immediate physical impact, whenever she drew too close to him, as if time were simultaneously speeding up and slowing down. ‘Hello, Lincoln.’

   He didn’t let her go immediately. Dark eyes travelled lazily across her face and something inside her trembled. No doubt he clocked the dark circles beneath her eyes and the fact she wore no make-up. Lincoln had dated some of the nation’s most beautiful women. Word on the street was that he was a man with a discerning eye and a short attention span.

   What the hell was she doing here? For a moment she was tempted to wheel away and speed back to Garrison Downs. A woman like her could never tempt a man like him.

   Going to play the craven little virgin now?

   That had her pushing her shoulders back. She had plenty to tempt him—namely land. Lincoln Garrison might be a freewheeling playboy, but he wasn’t an idiot. He’d recognise a good deal when he saw one. And while he might be as hot as sin this was a business meeting.

   ‘It’s really nice to see you, Rose.’

   She rolled her eyes. The man was also incapable of not flirting. And while she mightn’t be blonde and busty, whenever he saw her Lincoln never failed to give her one of those lingering glances of appreciation that he seemed to save just for her. As he was doing right now.

   For a moment she was tempted to flirt back, let herself imagine his expression if she allowed her gaze to make an equally slow perusal of his body. Because one question had always plagued her. What had seemed like a lifetime ago, Lincoln had asked her on a date. She’d declined, but she’d always wondered…

   What if she’d said yes?

   Her gaze lowered to take in the big, broad lines of him, and the pulse in her throat pounded. Maybe…

   With a start she pulled herself back into straight lines, cleared her throat. ‘So you already said.’

   Those tempting lips tugged into a wider smile and it was all she could do not to groan. This would be so much easier if he looked like…an ordinary man!

   ‘It was worth saying twice.’ With the smallest hitch of his head, he led her inside, glancing back over his shoulder. ‘You look great.’ His gaze drifted down to her legs. ‘You dressed up.’

   ‘So did you. Don’t walk into the wall, Lincoln.’

   He was in no danger of walking into the wall, but she needed him to stop looking at her like that or she might just dissolve into a puddle at his feet.

   ‘This is a business meeting,’ she added as he gestured for her to take a seat in the office. ‘I wanted to look good.’

   She waited, kind of fatalistically, for him to say something smooth like, You always look good.


   She was glad when he didn’t. ‘Because I want you to say yes to the proposition I’m going to put to you.’

   With a grin, he took the seat behind the desk. ‘My reputation precedes me, huh? Show me a pair of pretty legs and I’m putty.’

   He thought her legs were pretty?

   Focus, Rose, focus.

   When tea had been served, he lifted his mug to his mouth and surveyed her over the rim. ‘I was intrigued when you requested a meeting. You said you had a proposal to put to me?’

   ‘Yes, quite literally.’

   Dark blond brows shot up. ‘Literally?’

   ‘As in precisely or exactly or accurately.’ She sipped her tea before setting it on the desk. ‘I’ve come to ask you to marry me, Lincoln.’


Lincoln Garrison was rarely lost for words. But he stared at Rose Waverly’s composed and very beautiful face and couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

   He could think of plenty of things he’d like to do. Number one on that list was stride around the desk, pull her into his arms and kiss her until neither one of them could think straight. Nothing new in that, though. He had the same urge whenever he saw her.

   One kiss. They’d shared one kiss. Seven years ago. It shouldn’t have had such an impact.

   But it had, and, determined to do something about the unfamiliar longings, the sleepless nights, the need that had burned through him, Lincoln had asked Rose out. He hadn’t cared that she was a Waverly and he a Garrison. He hadn’t thought she’d cared either.

   He’d been wrong.

   I’m sorry, Lincoln, I can’t hurt my family like that. Please don’t ask me again.

   After that he’d given himself to a series of other women, always hoping he’d find someone who’d fire his blood the way Rose did. He’d partied hard, had played up to the playboy image with which the tabloids had labelled him. It had amused him at the time. Stupid. Now most people wrote him off as shallow, bent only on pleasure.

   Rose would too. Yet now she was asking him to marry her?

   He clenched his hands to the underside of his desk, out of her sight, as he fought an unfamiliar dizziness. ‘Did you just ask me to marry you?’

   She nodded, as composed and in control as ever.

   He refused to allow so much as a flickering eyelash to betray his disorientation. ‘Why?’ He eased back, stained his voice with amusement, but when she glanced down at her hands and went deathly still, he wished he hadn’t. ‘Why, Rose?’ he repeated more gently.

   Why would she ask him to marry her? Because, while he might’ve been hung up on her all these years, she sure as hell hadn’t been hung up on him. He’d done his best not to take it personally. She hadn’t appeared to be hung up on anyone.

   Swallowing, she folded her hands in her lap and her pallor hit him. She’d lost weight since he’d last seen her—at Holt’s funeral—nine months ago. Was she looking after herself? Did she have someone keeping an eye on her to make sure she wasn’t working herself half to death?

   He’d read the recent press release the family had issued, welcoming their half-sister Anastasia Horvath into the family. Holt’s youngest daughter. To a woman not his wife. The news had rocked him. It had rocked the district. It had rocked the nation. Rose had been forced to deal with a lot these last few months. It hurt something inside him to see her looking so tired and drawn.

   ‘Lincoln, I’m going to let you into a closely guarded secret.’ He couldn’t keep his brows from shooting up and she smiled weakly. ‘I know relations between our two families haven’t always been favourable.’

   An understatement if there ever was one.

   ‘But fences ought to be mended. And I figure we need to start somewhere.’

   He leaned towards her. ‘By you and me marrying?’ Had he stepped into some alternate universe?

   Just for a moment her gaze drifted to his shoulders and she moistened her lips as if suddenly parched.

   Things inside him clenched.

   Giving herself a shake, she dragged her gaze back to his. ‘I ought to clarify that when I say marriage, I mean a mutually beneficial business arrangement. A temporary agreement. A paper marriage.’

He sat back, any desire to ease her nerves dissolving. ‘Do go on,’ he drawled.

   To her credit, she kept her head high and her gaze steady. ‘What I’m going to tell you now, Lincoln, is in the strictest of confidence.’

   ‘Why would you trust me?’

   She stared at him for a long moment. ‘Sometimes you have to choose to believe the best in people. You and I don’t have to carry on Holt and Clay’s animosity. I’m very much hoping we won’t.’

   And there it was—her honesty…her decency—the reason he’d been unable to prevent his feelings from becoming tangled up in her in the first place. Why what he felt for her had always been more than physical. Rose was tough and capable and equipped in every way to run a huge operation like Garrison Downs, but what no one else seemed to see was how… It sounded biblical, which probably went to show how bad he had it for this woman, but how pure of heart Rose was.

   ‘If you betray my trust… I guess that’ll answer any question I have about the kind of man you are.’

‘You can trust me, Rose. You have my word.’

   Nodding, she moistened her lips again. ‘There was a condition attached to my father’s will, dating back to the time when Louisa May Waverly first acquired Garrison Downs.’

   ‘When she won it in a poker game, you mean?’


   The poker game that had created so much ill will between the two families.

   ‘The conditional bequest is old-fashioned. It states only a son can inherit the estate. If there are no sons then the daughters will inherit, but only if each daughter is married. They have twelve months from the reading of the will to fulfil the terms of the conditional bequest.’

   The breath punched from his lungs. ‘You have to marry?’ She had to marry if she wanted to keep Garrison Downs? ‘What kind of archaic…?’ He tried to rein in his wild thoughts. ‘Why are you asking me?’

   For the briefest of moments her gaze fixed on his mouth and things inside him clenched and clashed. Her eyes darkened and he wondered if she was remembering that kiss they’d shared. It occurred to him now, with the space of the intervening years, that maybe it had rocked her world as much as it had his. Maybe it had shaken her so much it’d sent her running scared.

   I can’t hurt my family like that.

   Both Rosamund and Holt were now dead. Rose’s choices couldn’t hurt them any more.

   ‘Why am I asking you in particular?’

   He crashed back to the here and now.

   ‘Because if my sisters and I don’t marry, the land will return to the current head of the Garrison family.’

   He couldn’t have heard her right.

   ‘Which, obviously, is your father.’

   Damn it all to hell!

   He bit back something rude and succinct. His father couldn’t get wind of this. If he did—

Rubbing a hand over his face, he banished the ugly images rising through him.

   ‘Now, of course…’ Rose’s fingers formed a steeple ‘…I could marry one of the Downs’ stockmen. Any one of them would do it to oblige me and I’ll have fulfilled the conditional bequest.’

   The thought of any one of them with Rose had his hands curling into fists.


   His heart pounded against the walls of his ribs. It took a superhuman effort to remain in his seat. ‘But?’

   Those extraordinary blue eyes met his, extraordinarily candid. ‘It only seems fair to give you first right of refusal. I’d like to mend fences, Lincoln. I’d like us to be friends.’

   ‘No, Rose, you want us to be husband and wife.’

   ‘A paper marriage, though, Lincoln.’ She seized her tea, took a huge gulp. ‘We’d be friends who temporarily marry for mutual benefit, and then remain friends afterwards. I’d like the future generations of Waverlys and Garrisons to get along, wouldn’t you?’


   Her nose wrinkled. ‘I don’t like your father. Sorry. Hence the reason I’m asking you to marry me rather than him.’

   He didn’t like his father much sometimes either. And she couldn’t marry Clay, couldn’t give him even the smallest of opportunities to gain a foothold at Garrison Downs.

   ‘And while I’m on the topic of people I don’t like… My grandmother would’ve hated me to marry a Garrison. I know I should be above such things—’ she gave a small grin, and he found an answering grin building inside him ‘—but apparently I’m not.’

   ‘I didn’t like your grandmother either.’

   ‘She was a bitter woman.’ She hesitated. ‘Your father is becoming an awful lot like her.’

   Her words burned a path through him, but only because they were true. Who else saw what Rose saw? If his father wasn’t careful, he’d lose his standing in the district, and his reputation. Linc planned to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

   In truth, Rose’s proposal couldn’t have come at a better time. If he wanted to prevent his father from making the biggest mistake of his miserable life, Rose had just handed him the means to do it. But he refused to appear too eager. Even he had his pride.

   ‘Why should I say yes to this proposal of yours? I suspect as soon as the demands of the will are met and the estate passes to you and your sisters, you mean to divorce me.’

   ‘As I said, this would be a business deal.’ She clasped her hands lightly on the desk. ‘You know that parcel of land my family has always refused to sell to Kalku Hills?’

   Camels Bridge? That stretch of land linked two separate portions of Kalku Hills land. Owning it would allow easy movement between the two. It would save the station time, effort and money. What was more, that land came with water rights. It was, quite literally, worth its weight in gold. ‘I know it well.’

   ‘It would be your wedding present.’

   He blew out a long breath. That was generous. Really generous. He couldn’t resist the sport of seeing just how far he could push her, though. ‘Would you consider throwing in your Angus bull?’

   ‘Carnelian Boy?’

   He nodded. The stud fees for him were phenomenal.

   She hesitated. ‘I wish I could say yes but I can’t.’

   Lifting the snow globe his mother had sent him for Christmas when he was eleven—the year she’d left him alone on the station with his father—he shook it. Watched all the pretty flakes swirl before slowly settling.

   ‘I can’t in good faith… The thing is, poor old Carnelian had a run-in with a barbed-wire fence and his breeding days are over. Now, if you still want him, that can be arranged, but I suspect you’re not looking for a pet.’

   ‘Hell, Rose.’ He set the globe down with a clatter. ‘I’m sorry.’

   ‘Yeah, it sucks.’

   He doubted Holt would’ve been so honest. His father sure as hell wouldn’t have been.

   It’s only fair you get first right of refusal. I can’t in good faith…

   ‘Honour is a big thing for you, huh?’

   She scowled. ‘Yes.’

   It made him laugh.

   Her scowl only deepened. ‘Is it for you?’

   He nodded, but said aloud what he knew they both were thinking. ‘Except you’re a Waverly and I’m a Garrison and we don’t trust each other.’

   Her sigh sounded loud on the air, but she shook herself upright. ‘Which is why my sisters, their husbands, as well as my head stockman, all know where I am and what time I’m expected back. If I’m not back by that time, they’ll send out a search party.’

   He tried to hide his shock. ‘You think I’d kidnap you?’

   ‘I only have three months to fulfil the conditions of the will…and this is a big country.’ Her eyes started to dance. ‘It’s also true that I might be a little bit addicted to soap operas.’

   Soap operas? He choked back a laugh.

   She leaned towards him, a frown pleating her brow. ‘I know we’ve not spent a lot of time together, Lincoln, but I’ve known you all my life…’

   He waited, his chest growing tighter with each passing second.

   ‘What I do know of you, I like.’

   It was as if someone had cut the strings of a puppet—his insides sagged, his heart though took flight.

She stared back, half defiantly. ‘I’ve never seen you be mean to anyone.’

   With every word she spoke he fell a little deeper for her. But was it real? Or had he built Rose up in his mind because she was the one that had got away?

   His hands clenched and unclenched. He’d always wanted a chance with this woman.

   ‘You’re well liked in the district. That’s a good character reference.’

   ‘So are you.’

   ‘I’m considered reserved and standoffish.’

   Ah, the ice queen tag had reached her ears, then.

   ‘You’re well respected,’ he said quietly. ‘Your judgement is considered as sound as your father’s.’

   She flinched at the mention of her father. He wished he could hug her.

   You could hug her if you were married.

   Oh, he was going to marry her, all right, there was no doubt about that.

   Glancing at her watch, she shot to her feet. ‘Look, I understand this is a lot to take in and that you’ll need time to consider your decision. I’m afraid I can only give you a week, though. I’ve left this far too late and for my family’s sake I—’

   ‘If we married…’

   He gestured for her to sit. She sat.

   ‘I’d want to maintain the appearance of an actual marriage. I’d want people to think it real.’


   ‘My father is going to be a…challenge. Him thinking the marriage is real will help me manage that.’ And that was all he was going to say on the subject.

   She chewed that over for a moment. ‘You’d have to move to Garrison Downs.’

   He nodded.

   She nodded too. Not in agreement, but digesting his words. ‘It’s a moot point until you come to a decision.’ She stood again. ‘It was good of you to see me at such short notice, and—’

   ‘I’ll marry you on one condition, Rose.’ He stood too.

   Her hands twisted together. ‘What’s your condition?’

   ‘That for the duration of our marriage, you don’t break our wedding vows.’

   She blinked. ‘You’re talking about fidelity.’

   ‘No man likes to be made a fool. I’d promise the same thing. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise.’

   She gaped at him. ‘Lincoln, you’re not exactly known for your…abstinence.’

   It stung that she thought him incapable of it.

   She straightened, her hands on her hips. ‘I won’t lie to my sisters, and they’ll keep the secret if I ask it of them. Other than that, I agree to all of your terms.’

   Moving around the desk, he stuck out his hand. ‘Deal.’

   She clasped it, her grip firm. ‘Deal.’

   Leaning down, he pressed his lips to her cheek, inhaled her surprisingly light floral scent. ‘A pleasure doing business with you, Rose.’

   Her breath hitched. ‘Likewise.’

   She tugged her hand from his with more haste than necessary, and he bit back a grin. Did she really think they’d be able to keep their hands off each other for the next three months?    He suspected a paper marriage was the last thing either of them wanted.


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