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Vacation Bride: A Billionaire Marriage of Convenience (Brides of Paradise Book 1), page 1

 

Vacation Bride: A Billionaire Marriage of Convenience (Brides of Paradise Book 1)
 


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Vacation Bride: A Billionaire Marriage of Convenience (Brides of Paradise Book 1)


  When Anna Williams lands a spot on the Vacation Bride reality show, she’s hoping to give her sick father a break from the Milwaukee winter, not win a rich husband. Which is good, because the hunky maintenance man whose broad shoulders and clear blue eyes have caught her attention is neither rich nor part of the contest…is he?

  Chris Andersen was a disinherited resort brat until his uncle’s family crashed their private helicopter during an argument over money. Now Chris is a secret billionaire, determined to make the Paradise Resort a success on its own. To pay for improvements, he’s hosting his cousin’s internet reality series, Vacation Bride, a show where women compete to win a rich husband. The women are silly and the show’s a lot of work, but the publicity seems worth it. At least until Chris finds out he may be entering the contest himself…as first prize.

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  Vacation Bride

  Brides of Paradise #1

  Vicky Loebel

  Discover more titles at www.vickyloebel.com

  Copyright

  © 2016 Vicky Loebel

  Vacation Bride

  FIRST EDITION, version 1.0

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment and may not be resold, given away to other people, or quoted extensively (except in reviews). If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use, please consider purchasing your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of authors everywhere.

  Formatted & Published Internationally by Pentachronistic™ Press. Cover ©2016 Pentachronistic™ Press. Cover by Jaycee Delorenzo of Sweet’n Spicy Designs; Cover photo credits: ©Fotalia.com/ popovich22. This is a work of fiction. The characters and most of the settings are imaginary. Any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental and unintended.

  This series is dedicated to my amazingly supportive sisters:

  Dusky, Karen, and Julia

  Special thanks to Carol Lynn & Julia Richards, test readers extraordinaire,

  and to my editor Dusky Loebel.

  Prologue: Vacation Bride

  ONE island, ONE billionaire, TWELVE eligible women. Ladies, this winter forsake the ice and snow and journey to the tropical paradise of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, to compete in Vacation Bride, the internet’s hottest new reality web series.

  [CLICK TO ENTER]

  Can’t make the contest? You’re still in on the fun. After each challenge, the audience will vote to help pick the winners. Each week during the first half of the show, four losers will be replaced with four potential new brides. So bookmark this site, visit often, and don’t forget: you could be billionaire bachelor Ryan Andersen’s Vacation Bride!

  Chapter One

  Anna Williams flipped open a drawing pad on the arm of a visitor’s chair and stared out the window at the gathering dusk. “It’s snowing,” she told her friend in the hospital bed. “Again.”

  Diane barely glanced up. “Of course it’s snowing.” She tapped a button rhythmically on the screen of her phone. “It’s February. It’s Milwaukee. It’s the law.”

  “I don’t think there’s a law about snow.” Anna drew the stark square shape of the window. “Not riding your motorcycle on Downer Avenue during a blizzard…there’s probably a law about that.” Her friend had been lucky to escape with a broken leg. “You could have wound up in jail.”

  “The cops were very understanding. I told them I ran out of beer.”

  “Drunk driving. Good thinking.” A street light sizzled in a halo of steam. Anna sketched it with faint strokes of her pencil. “If you said you’d robbed a bank, there might have been trouble.”

  “Ha-ha.”

  Stark wires gleamed above the half-empty hospital lot. Anna swept a line over the page.

  “Anyway,” Diane continued, “I didn’t tell the cops I’d been drinking. I said I had to celebrate winning a spot on Vacation Bride.”

  “I see.” Anna shaded wings of frost inside the windowpane. “You lied.”

  “It wasn’t a lie. It was a premature truth. There’s still half an hour to get into the contest. Which reminds me, we’re entering on your phone, too.” Diane held out her palm. “Gimme.”

  Anna closed the sketchbook and surrendered her phone. She didn’t mind spending the afternoon with her friend, although she couldn’t really afford to cancel her private swimming students. Diane had sat with Anna through eighteen months of tests, and cardiologists, and bypass heart surgery for Anna’s dad, even after they’d had to close the family bakery and lay off Diane from her job at the shop.

  Successful surgery. Anna tapped her knuckles against the wood frame of the chair. Daddy’s fine. If only the snow would let up. If only spring would come so he could get outside and play a few rounds of golf. The doctors wanted her dad up and walking, but icy weather kept him indoors.

  “It’s on! Vacation Bride!” Diane’s tablet was propped open to the contest website. “They’re showing clips from the series while they pick the last four women.” She clutched both phones, entering the contest with her thumbs.

  Anna scooted her chair close to the bed. For three weeks, she and Diane had watched the live stream of Vacation Bride women making fools of themselves on the internet: eating bugs, carrying stacks of coconuts on their heads, battling to become the bride of Ryan Andersen, the show’s handsome billionaire bachelor. Tonight Vacation Bride would select the last women to join the contest at the Paradise Resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There’d be three more weeks of competition and then—assuming Ryan and one of the women fell in love—a magnificent wedding.

  Tap. Tap. Diane hit “enter” over and over on both phones. By the time this was finished, she’d need surgery on her thumbs as well as her leg.

  A video played showing a bunch of women scuba diving in cages surrounded by sharks. Anna scowled but couldn’t resist the view of crystal-clear water and colorful fish. Palm trees swayed softly behind Bobbie, the show’s glamorous announcer, and she could almost feel the soft, tropical breeze.

  The video ended. A text went out announcing the first of the final contestants. Anna had to admit it was great publicity, adding women while the show was in progress. She held her breath.

  Nothing happened.

  Anna sighed softly. “Those cops are going to come back and arrest you,” she told Diane. “Anyhow, I don’t see why you’re still entering. You can’t compete with a broken leg.”

  “It’s destiny.” Her friend resumed tapping. “I’ve got a premonition.”

  Diane’s premonitions had lost the Wisconsin lottery one hundred and seventy-six times in a row. They watched a video of bikini-clad women swinging, Tarzan style, from tree to tree, and then another involving a Frisbee and lots of suntan lotion. They weren’t all beautiful. You couldn’t expect that in a show that picked entries at random. But even the plainer ones looked remarkably stylish.

  The names of two more contestants were sent out via text.

  “Besides,” Diane argued, “we might win on your phone. Think of the sun, the sand, the fact you get to bring whoever you want as your stylist. Imagine how much good a tropical golf course would do your dad.”

  Anna imagined her father strong and tan, the way he’d been two years ago, instead of the irritable shadow who’d spent the winter pacing back and forth behind their living-room window.

  “It’s eighty degrees in the Caribbean,” Diane said. “All year.”
<
br />   Anna scowled at the falling snow.

  “And if Ryan Andersen doesn’t pick a bride, the contest winner gets twenty-five thousand dollars. I bet you’d face a few sharks in cages for that.”

  “I’d face a few sharks out of cages.” Twenty-five thousand dollars would pay a lot of bills. “Although preferably on dry land.”

  A video showed women weaving dresses out of seaweed and banana leaves. The contest selected its final competitor.

  Diane’s phone chirped. “Oh my god!”

  “That isn’t funny.”

  The chirp was followed by half a ring. Diane pounced excitedly and then grabbed her cast, wincing. “Yes! Ow! Yes!”

  On the Vacation Bride website, a time-delayed Ryan Andersen asked, “Is this my future bride in Milwaukee?”

  “Tomorrow!” Diane gushed into her phone. “Five a.m. Mitchell Field. Absolutely. Thanks!”

  The call ended. The phone chirped again with a string of text messages.

  “You can’t go!” Anna objected. “You can’t compete with a broken leg!”

  Diane grinned. “Get my purse.”

  Anna leaned over and opened a drawer. “I am not helping you escape from this hospital.” She passed the purse to her friend. “You just had surgery!”

  Diane took out four twenty-dollar bills. “This is all the cash I’ve got. But the Paradise Resort is all-inclusive, so you’ll be OK.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  Diane placed the money in Anna’s hand. “If you need—what am I saying? There’s no if.” She dug out her apartment keys. “Stop by my place and grab some clothes. Take the gold sandals. They look great on you.”

  Was she insane? For one instant, Anna imagined taking her dad on vacation, but then she crossed her arms, shaking her head. “I can’t impersonate you. It’s fraud!”

  “Who said anything about impersonating?” Diane held up the phone. For the first time, Anna realized which one she’d been talking into. “You’re the one who got picked.”

  “I couldn’t.” Anna felt dizzy.

  “You could,” Diane answered. “You did. And there’s barely twelve hours before the flight. So get the heck out of my hospital room, go home, and tell your dad to pack!”

  A string of chirps came from the phone. Anna watched messages scroll past providing airline confirmation numbers, explaining how to get to the U.S. Virgin Islands. She was allowed to bring one personal stylist, all expenses paid, plus as many suitcases as she liked.

  “Good grief.” Anna wasn’t sure she even owned a suitcase. “I can’t believe it.” She had no interest in appearing on an internet reality show, much less winning a rich husband. And yet…. Anna glanced up. Outside the small square hospital window, the night was full of snow. Dad needs a vacation. “Looks like I’m going to the Caribbean.”

  “No kidding, Sherlock. Now get a move on!”

  Anna walked slowly to the hospital door, clutching Diane’s eighty dollars. “Thanks for this.” Between her dad’s medical bills and their monthly expenses, the only thing Anna could get out of an ATM was hollow laughter. “I’ll pay you back.”

  “I know you will,” Diane replied, grinning. “Because once you’re rich, you’re going to reopen your father’s bakery and triple my salary!”

  Chapter Two

  Morning sunshine cascaded down a lushly carpeted hillside and sparkled across the turquoise waters of Paradise Bay. Atop the hill, a gentle breeze sent green and pink bougainvillea leaves skittering along the stone walls of a meticulously restored eighteenth-century pavilion. Resort owner Chris Anderson took a break from installing light fixtures to rest his arms on the top rung of his stepladder. He wasn’t crazy about heights, and doing electrical work twenty feet above the edge of a cliff was quickly becoming his least favorite activity. But Chris never asked employees to do something he wouldn’t tackle himself, and the view across Pillsbury Sound to St. Thomas was spectacular.

  A pair of tourist boats motored into the bay. One, filled with day-trippers who would spend the afternoon and hopefully a few bucks at the Paradise Resort’s white-sand beaches. The other, a catamaran ferrying snorkelers to the coral reef ringing the island.

  Chris frowned as the cat—Tempest Fugitive, he knew her well—discovered the public moorings were taken and picked up a private one belonging to the resort. Not that he blamed her. The raging circus of the Vacation Bride reality series made it almost impossible for St. John locals to go about their normal business.

  Three weeks down. Chris reached up and resumed work on his light fixture. Three weeks to go.

  The contest had been the brainchild of Chris’ cousin, Ryan Andersen. Intelligent, wealthy, almost criminally handsome, Ryan had followed brief careers as a mountain climber, opal prospector, and racehorse breeder by starting his own video production company. The result was Vacation Bride, an internet reality show where women competed to marry a billionaire bachelor—namely, Ryan himself.

  Chris tightened a bolt, still not sure why he was hosting his cousin’s contest. Vacation Bride had brought the resort much-needed publicity and money for renovations. But it had also brought in a lot of non-paying cast and crewmembers. And the production seemed to generate one emergency after another, like this sudden need to rewire the restaurant pavilion.

  Chris finished installing the light and rubbed circulation back into his fingers. Across from him, perched casually on her own ladder, the show’s announcer and co-producer, Bobbie Burke, stopped to applaud.

  “You’re getting better!” She’d wired four lights for every one he’d put in. “Another sixty or seventy hours and we’ll sign you up as apprentice technician.”

  “I wouldn’t know what to do with the extra pay.”

  The woman chuckled. Like many people in show business, Bobbie had planned originally to be an actress. Her short brown curls and hourglass figure reminded Chris of a 1950s television star, a look she emphasized with white Capris and a checked blouse knotted under her breasts. Also like many people in show business, she was both charming and unrelenting when it came to getting her way.

  “Let me guess,” she kidded. “Right now, you’re wishing you’d strangled my business partner in his crib.”

  “Pretty close,” Chris admitted. “But Ryan’s six months older than me, so that would have been tough.”

  “Drowned him? Fed him to the iguanas?”

  “Iguanas are vegetarians.” Chris climbed down the ladder, repositioned it, and lumbered back up. “Komodo dragons, maybe.”

  A tourist helicopter buzzed the resort. Chris clutched his vibrating ladder and then forced his hands open. “Anyhow, Ryan’s all right.” He thought there might be something between Ryan and Bobbie. Something beyond their professional relationship. “Ry’s a little too used to having his way. But he’s a good guy.”

  “If you say so.” Bobbie leaned sideways to install another light. “The man makes me scream.”

  “I’ve had decades to get used to him.” Chris had grown up at the Paradise Resort, penniless, half-orphaned, after his dad worked himself to death. It was Ryan who’d demanded the Andersens look after Chris, who’d dragged him to private schools and on family vacations. And it was Ryan who—when Chris received an unexpected fortune—convinced him to buy the Paradise and set the money aside instead of dumping the whole tainted legacy into the ocean.

  That had been twenty-five months ago. Twenty-five months of backbreaking work. And yet the Paradise was still struggling. Chris’ mother, Doris, who’d been resort concierge all his life, was still waiting on guests sixteen hours per day. And Chris still felt guilty about inheriting a fortune.

  An entire branch of his family had had to die for him to get it.

  Twenty-five months, six days, and twenty-three hours since the crash. Chris tilted his head and let the trade winds cool his face. From the ladder, he could see the exact spot his uncle’s private helicopter had gone down during a furious argument over money. He’d had billions. Each of Chris’ pa
ternal uncles was a multi-billionaire. But it was never enough.

  Metal wheels clanked on stone. Chris looked down to see his cousin trundling a catering cart into the pavilion. Behind Ryan came two technicians pushing a dolly stacked with equipment.

  “Who wants breakfast?” Enticing smells drifted from Ryan’s cart. “We finished rewiring the pool deck, so I thought Fred and Arthur could take over the lights.”

  “Just in time.” Chris tightened a last bolt and descended the ladder rung-by-rung. “Your co-producer’s been threatening to put me on the payroll.”

  “Not the payroll, exactly.” Bobbie stowed a wrench in her tool belt. “I had more of an unpaid internship in mind.” She placed her hands and feet outside the stepladder and glided smoothly to the ground. “The hours are lousy but the working conditions are really terrible to make up for it.”

  Chris surrendered his ladder to the professionals and headed for the breakfast cart.

  “You’ll never convince my cousin to work for free.” Ryan pulled out a cast-iron chair and held it for Bobbie. “He’s only interested in jobs that actually cost him money.”

  “Which explains,” Chris said, “why I’m hosting Vacation Bride.”

  “The show’s an investment,” Ryan pointed out primly. “We pay for upgrades. Wiring. Plumbing. All in exchange for a few simple meals.”

  “Plus a block of rooms during high season.”

  “Plus the sort of publicity money can’t buy.” He uncovered an omelet and passed it to Chris. “A year from now, the Paradise will be packed with celebrities.”

  “I don’t want celebrities.” The little resort had always been a family destination. “I’ll be happy just to make payroll.” Chris had bought the place with inherited money, but he was determined to make it a success on its own. “My employees work hard. They deserve to get paid.”

 
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