The Marriage Merger by Jennifer Probst

themarriagemerger_322x500Her sisters have found wedded bliss with their wealthy,wonderful dream men, but not Julietta Conte. She’s stayed on terra firma as top executive of the family’s corporation, La Dolce Famiglia bakery.

Work is her passion, and her trendy Milan apartment her sanctuary . . . until Sawyer Wells, a masculine masterpiece in a suit, lures her out of hiding with an irresistible offer: an exclusive partnership with his international chain of boutique hotels.

Julietta’s been burned before—and trusting her brother-in-law’s friend, whose powerful gaze alone has her rethinking the best use of a conference room, is the riskiest proposition.

But with a once-in-a-career chance to take the bakery global, will she mix stone-cold business with red-hot seduction?

review

“You’ve done proper already, and it hasn’t worked. It’s time you do dirty.”

Some people watch re-runs of Sex and the City, some people indulge in chocolate comas… one of my guilty pleasures happens to be a Jennifer Probst book, and especially her Marriage to a Billionaire series. Each one of the instalments so far has been like a little piece of heaven for this HEA addict, and this last instalment of a truly beloved series did not disappoint. The Marriage Merger has all the trademark qualities of this author’s writing style – undeniable chemistry between characters, a sense of belonging drawing them together, strong family values at the core of their happily-ever-after, sizzling sex scenes, and deeply emotional connections between the characters and with the characters – all packaged nicely into a story that transports you into a world where the senses lead the way, where people fall in love and stay in love, where the heart can never be denied, and where family comes first and foremost.

In this final book of the series, we finally get to meet the eldest Conte daughter as we watch her find her happily-ever-after. Julietta has always been the responsible one in the family. While her siblings followed their hearts, she was driven by a sense of responsibility and loyalty towards her family and the family business, La Dolce Famiglia. Her ambition and stubborn determination to leave her mark in an industry where being a woman is her only downfall, Julietta has dedicated her life to making her family proud of her and to continuing a legacy started by her late father. She carefully controls all aspects of her life, leaving very little time to pursue personal interests. Her few attempts at finding what her siblings all have found – true love – have all ended in disaster, leaving her convinced of being frigid and incapable of feeling true passion. She blames herself for her body’s inability to keep the flame burning during the sexual act, and believes that no man would ever want a woman like that in his bed.

“No man had ever wanted her enough.”

Sawyer Wells is a successful self-made businessman, known for his ruthless business sense and his perennial bachelor status. His private life remains a mystery to even those closest to him, but his evident loyalty to those he cares for precedes him and only adds to the overall mystery of the man behind the impeccable business suit. When Sawyer approaches Julietta and makes her a once-in-a-lifetime business proposition, Julietta finds herself not only at a professional crossroad, but also at a personal one as well. Her attraction to him is unlike anything she has ever experienced before, raw and uncontrollable, and the object of her attraction appears to have the same primal reaction to her.

“He was a primitive wrapped up in civilization.”

Another proposition takes place, one of an indecent kind, and Julietta’s world tilts on its axis. For the first time in her life, a man succeeds in awakening her body and making her feel everything. Every touch burns her skin, every kiss curls her toes, every earth-shattering orgasm wrecks her and helps her find the passionate woman hiding inside her. But while Sawyer might be able to read Julietta’s body the way no man has even tried before, and he knows exactly what her body craves in order to let go of its mental restraints, he is also a man not interested in a romantic connection. He believes himself incapable of offering love to anyone, especially to a woman as deserving of love as Julietta.

“He ached to give her what she needed, but he’d been numb for so many years, he didn’t know how to feel any softer emotions, especially love.”

As always, however, there is no denying Cupid and what is meant to be eventually happens.

This book is in so many ways a bold departure from the previous books in the series. It follows a well-known winning formula, but it also delves deeper into the characters’ psyche, confronting them with slightly profounder personal issues as it tackles some more serious themes such as physical abuse in the form of flashbacks from their past. It also skims over certain sexual proclivities such as domination and submission, admittedly at a very mellow ‘vanilla’ level, but it adds a new flavour to the pot and let me tell you, it is delicious! I do believe some of the terminology could have been used with greater care, as having dominant tendencies in the bedroom does not make a person a Dom, but this ultimately did not matter – the gentle dominant/submissive dynamic between the characters succeeds in achieving the intended result believably and the reader enjoys every second of it. Every. Single. Mouth-watering. Second.

“I want to discover every hidden secret of your body and a thousand ways to make you scream my name… A reminder of the basic rules. Do everything I say. No talking unless I ask a question. And absolutely no thinking. I’ll do that for both of us tonight.”

I cannot tell you how bittersweet it was to read this book and know all along we would be leaving this world behind after this last instalment. I am hoping characters such as Wolfe get their own book one day as I am not quite ready to give up my little guilty pleasure just yet. Ms Probst knows how to make us escape reality, how to ignite our senses, how to make our hearts drop one minute and elate us with happiness then next. Pure escapism. Pure delight. Pure sizzle.

“You wrecked me, Julietta. You tore me apart piece by piece, and then put me back together.”

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The Marriage Mistake by Jennifer Probst

Carina Conte has had a crush on her brother Michael’s best friend, Max Gray, since she was a teenager. Now she’s earned her MBA and come to work at Michael’s new venture, America’s fastest-growing bakery empire. But some things never change: her family still treats her like a child. With three drop-dead gorgeous siblings, she’s still the ugly duckling of the bunch. And Max, the company’s new CEO, still barely notices her.

Max knows Carina Conte is strictly off limits. But hot-blooded lust wins out at a conference when the two share a scorching one-night stand – and are busted by her mother! Now, forced by old-world Italian tradition into a marriage he’s not ready for, Max is miserable – and Carina is furious.

Her new husband is about to realize that hell hath no fury like a woman transformed …

 

review

“I am the big bad wolf, sweetheart. Now get your ass up to your room.”

Reading Jennifer Probst’s books makes me feel like I am on some tropical island, laying in the sun, a sexy cabana boy on call and a cocktail in hand. I feel a little naughty from the pleasure it gives me, but I’m grinning from ear to ear from the sheer indulgence of it all. There is something in these books, perhaps the idea of a marriage of convenience turning into true love that just ‘speaks’ to the hopeless dreamer in me. I want to escape into her books, lose myself in the delicious scenarios she creates for us and never set foot into the real world again.

This is Max and Carina’s story. We met them in The Marriage Trap where we first noticed young Carina’s infatuation with her brother’s best friend. Three years later, Carina has completed her MBA and she is ready to get involved in the family business. Max is asked to show her the ropes, a task he considers on par with baby-sitting, but what he does not realise is that Carina is no longer a besotted self-conscious little girl who used to pine after him – he finds himself in front of a hot-blooded vixen, with a killer body and personality to match.

Carina has been in love with Max all her life. The quiet but sensitive young girl that she once was used to spend her days daydreaming of her brother’s friend, watching him going through one love interest after another, constantly hoping he would pick her one day. But that day never came and the last time she saw him he had openly demonstrated he had no interest in her by choosing a random woman at a party over her. That day Carina said goodbye to her childhood crush on a man she could never have.

“… she offered his companion the second glass. He jerked back as if realizing the symbol of her gesture. Carina looked up and memorized his beloved face for the last time. She left him in the garden with the woman and didn’t look back. She surrendered more than the love of her life. She gave up her old dreams and left her old life behind.”

Now she is back in his life and she is ready to “exorcise the ghost of Maximus Gray”. But Max is not willing to let her do that this time. Their attraction is flaming hot, every look, every touch leaving their skin tingling and the reader fanning themselves – they fight the draw between them with excuses of age difference and life-long friendships, but their bodies betray them at every turn. Eventually, they agree on indulging themselves with one night of passion to take the itch away, hoping they would be ‘cured’ in the morning.

“I deserve one night of great sex, Max. Would you deny me that? Would you deny what you give to yourself? I’m not a perfect china doll placed on a shelf to be played with in careful moments. I’m flesh and blood and I want messiness and passion and orgasms.”

Their one-night-stand proves to be a life changing experience for both of them. The connection between them is not just flesh-deep but neither of them is ready to admit that just yet. At this point, fate butts in in the form of mama Conte who discovers their indiscretion the following morning and convinces them that the only way to save their families from embarrassment and humiliation is by marrying each other. What might appear as an old-fashioned blessing in disguise is nothing more than a curse for Carina – getting the man of her dreams by twisting his arm into marrying her out of obligation rather than undying love is the last thing her heart craves.

“Where the f*ck is my happily-ever-after, Max? I dreamed of a real proposal, with a man on bent knee and vows he actually meant. You know what I got? Good intentions, responsibility, and a few orgasms.”

Carina’s journey is one of finding her true passions in life, voicing what she wants and does not want. In this story, we witness a vibrant young woman willing to sacrifice everything she was raised to think was right for her in order to find out what would truly make her happy. Her courage to cut the ties that bind her and finding strength within her was inspiring, showing us that one needs to be strong on their own before they can be strong with someone else. She is a fierce heroine, one that likes to submit to her lover in the bedroom but firmly holds the reins of the relationship together with her partner.

“I’m finally claiming what I’ve wanted for a long time. A man who makes me explode with pleasure and can take me places I crave to go. A man to hold me and give me orgasms and share the night with.”

Max is just as complex as Carina is – he is a man torn between loyalty and his irrepressible pull towards Carina. While she has always seen him as the personification of all her desires, Max needs to readjust his perception of her. He fights a battle inside his head, wanting to keep the role of protector and friend to her, while realising at the same time that this woman is also his soul-mate. Carina is the first woman in his life that makes him crave to be a better man for her.

A story of people being each other’s constants in life, of childhood dreams becoming reality, of lovers reaching into each other’s souls and giving life to every dream, every hidden desire buried in there. This is possibly a new favourite of mine in the Marriage to a Billionaire series, having allowed Carina and Max to get under my skin and desperately ached for their happy ending. Ms Probst never lets me down, she feeds the romance junkie in me and she always leaves me satisfied. As fairy-tale-like as her stories might be, we all need an escapist safety haven for our dreams to go wild and that is the world that she builds for us so finger-lickingly well. Every. Single. Time.

5stars

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The Marriage Trap by Jennifer Probst

Wife wanted … Italian billionaire seeks faux fiancée. Willing to agree to anything in return …

In order for his sister to marry, Italian billionaire Michael Conte has to find himself a bride – and fast! When he learns that photographer Maggie Ryan is going to be in Milan, Michael hatches a plan to introduce her to his family as his “fiancée”. Never mind that Maggie is confident, independent, and a control freak. Never mind that she’s everything he doesn’t want in a wife … and everything he wants in his bed!

Convinced that Michael is in love with her married gal pal, Maggie agrees to keep up the ruse if he’ll keep away from her friend. Besides, she’s not attracted to charming, ridiculously hot billionaires who drive her nuts. Once they’re in Italy, however, everything changes – and the sexual tension between Maggie and Michael goes from simmer to naked nuclear meltdown!

But have they found the perfect arrangement … or are they trapped in a make-believe marriage?

 “Let me be clear, la mia tigrotta. I’m taking you to bed. I’m going to strip off your clothes, bury myself inside you, and make you come so many times the only word from your lips will be my name, begging me to do it all over again.” (la mia tigrotta ~ my tiger cub)

review

There are some romance authors that get it right every single time and Jennifer Probst is one of those authors. Her delicious stories tantalise your senses, they keep you in a constant state of arousal and cheeriness, the only dilemma in your mind being – wine or chocolate?

In this provocative sequel to The Marriage Bargain, our heroine is Maggie, a successful young photographer whose love life is as colourful as it is unfulfilling. She guards her heart fiercely, her fear of rejection holding her back from believing in ever finding love. But Maggie craves to be loved, to have a man look at her with possession and devotion – her unemotional upbringing has made her hungry for affection, secretly hopeful that every man she takes to bed would end up “slaying the demons in the evening and be enough under the harsh morning light”. She is lonely, tired of being alone and her past traumas have made her believe that she would never be truly wanted by anyone, never good enough.

“Nothing was worse than that empty, gnawing feeling in her stomach when she rolled over and realized the man next to her was not The One. Would never be The One.”

Michael has been a thorn in Maggie’s sight ever since their failed blind date over a year ago. Now they find themselves in Italy, Michael’s homeland, in an unconventional agreement of pretend-marriage and desperately trying to deny the sizzling attraction between them. But while they are convinced to be all wrong for each other and to have nothing in common, Maggie and Michael are a lot more alike than they realise. They have been looking for the same thing in life, the same empty search for a ‘soul mate’ both troubling them as well as filling them with hopelessness.

“Do you take them to bed to escape the loneliness, hoping it will end up to be more? Do you wake up in the morning with a sick feeling in your stomach, knowing you lied to yourself again? Do you wonder if you’re meant to be alone? Wonder if something deep down is holding you back?”

Michael wants a woman to challenge him, with a strong independent streak on the outside and a kind and loving heart on the inside. Deep down, he longs for a woman that is “wild, untamed, contradictory, and stubborn.” Maggie awakens this unconscious longing in him, he finds himself desperate to peel off her defences, one by one, and make her reveal her true self to him. He senses that something is holding her back from admitting her feelings for him and he patiently attempts to knock that wall down brick by brick.

“… there was a cool detachment in her aura, surrounding her like a thicket of thornbushes with nasty-looking spines. Look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’ feel. Her emotions were locked up and controlled to a point of strangling.”

He senses her need to feel loved, her lingering pain and yearning to form a lasting attachment to someone, but he also struggles with his own reluctance to admit that she might actually be exactly what he’s been looking for all along. Michael finds himself unable to fight his attraction to Maggie any longer – the more he gets to know her, the deeper his feelings for her become. Her unpredictable personality and smart mouth are his undoing. Their connection is electric, intense, overconsuming. Before they know it, they are ‘stripped-bare’ before one another, with no walls between them, fighting for control over their emotions and over one another.

“She twisted everything inside of him until he vibrated at a high pitch, and she made the long line of women he’d taken to bed fade away into nothingness. She was prickly, hardheaded, honest to a fault, and hid a soft center that melted his heart.”

The build-up of sexual chemistry between the main characters, the anticipation, the will-they-won’t-they will leave you breathless. Ms Probst’s stories are pure escapism at its finest – they awaken the hopeless romantic in you and they fill your dreams with sexually-charged fantasies of meant-to-be’s. This book is a worthy sequel to a favourite of mine and it only makes me wish for this series to never end.

The next book in the series, The Marriage Mistake, comes out on 6 November 2012. I cannot wait!!!

4halfstars

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The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst

A marriage in name only … To save her family home, impulsive bookstore owner, Alexa Maria McKenzie, casts a love spell. But she never planned on conjuring up her best friend’s older brother – the powerful man who once shattered her heart.

Billionaire Nicholas Ryan doesn’t believe in marriage, but in order to inherit his father’s corporation, he needs a wife and needs one fast. When he discovers his sister’s childhood friend is in dire financial straits, he’s offers Alexa a bold proposition. A marriage in name only with certain rules: Avoid entanglement. Keep things all business. Do not fall in love. The arrangement is only for a year so the rules shouldn’t be that hard to follow, right? Except fate has a way of upsetting the best-laid plans …

 

 

review

I read this book some time ago, pre-blog and pre-book review mania, and since it has been proudly sitting on my Favourites shelf ever since then and to celebrate its print debut on 4 September, I felt that it deserved to be revisited and reviewed in detail this time.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive …” ~ Sir Walter Scott

I honestly LOVED everything about this book! From start to finish, it kept me in a constant state of elation, the escapist in me doing cartwheels of joy every time I turned a page. This is a feel-good, funny, sexy, romantic story of two people who do everything they can to fight the chemistry between them, to only fail miserably at every turn. A story like this is a romantic escapist’s dream come true.

Alexa is a strong and independent young woman, a small business owner, in desperate need of two things – the man of her dreams and a large sum of money to save her family’s home. Preferably in the same package. She dreams of a man possessing “loyalty, intelligence, humor, a strong sense of family and a love for animals, a healthy income.” The solution to all her problems comes in the form of her childhood crush, her best friend’s arrogant older brother, whom she has not seen ever since he broke her heart when they were kids. Nick is a successful architect who needs a wife for a year in order to inherit his late uncle’s company and is willing to pay for it. He does not believe in “love everlasting, marriage, and family” but he is willing to have a fixed-term marriage of convenience with someone he trusts, even if that someone is the only woman capable of getting under his skin and making him question his resolve.

“All women wanted marriage, and marriage meant messiness. Fights above emotion. Children tearing them both at the seams, wanting more attention. Needing more space, until the end became the same as every other relationship. Divorce. With children as the casualties.”

Alexa comes from a tight-knit family, a family that fights to stay together and fights for each other, and she would do anything for the ones she loves, even marry a man who she knows could never love her the way she dreams of being loved.

”Could she stand being married to a man who made logic his God and thought monogamy was a female thing? … Nick only experienced strong emotions for his buildings. Never for women.”

Nick, on the other hand, is the product of a broken home, whose parents’ self-absorbed behaviour has taught him from an early age that marriages are as messy as they are short-lived.

“Marriage is unnecessary. The dream of forever is a fairy tale. White knights and monogamy don’t exist. … Sure, people mean it when they confess love and devotion, but time erodes all the good stuff and leaves the bad.”

Two people with completely opposite views on most things, most importantly on the importance of commitment, but equally desperate to achieve their goals. The deal gets sealed, they marry each other and all their best laid plans slowly fall through. Neither of them quite expected for their loveless marriage of convenience to turn into an irresistible battle of wills, a delicious struggle against their ever-growing attraction, or to find their ‘soul-mate’ in the midst of it all. They tear through each other’s walls and become vulnerable to something neither of them have ever experienced or felt before. The more they fight the pull, the more the chemistry between them sizzles. Eventually they lose the battle and give in to all the pent-up frustration and emotions that have tortured them since their wedding day. But nothing is easy or uncomplicated when two equally stubborn individuals are trying to make a relationship work, never giving up or changing their views on what that relationship should look like in the long run.

The highlight of the book for me were the dialogues, especially between the two main characters, Alexa and Nick. It is so enjoyable when a heroine with a smart mouth can disarm a man with only a few words – “It was nice to see you again, Pretty Boy.” Alexa is a woman we want to emulate, befriend, idolize. Her only weakness is her fierce devotion to her loved ones which is also her biggest strength. Her larger-than-life personality disarms Nick, makes him question everything he has ever believed about love and relationships – she gives herself to him completely, unselfishly and shows him the truth of his feelings for her.

“She gave for no gain of her own, no goal she needed to reach. Love was not a prize but something she owned inside and shared freely. Every night she took him deep into her body and held nothing back. The woman who was his wife was a fierce, proud creature who both shattered and humbled him, and he realized in the glimmer of firelight that he loved her. He was in love with his wife.”

However, love is easy, trust is hard and eventually their biggest challenge is shutting down their doubts about each other and trusting their hearts to have made the right choice. Nick’s personal journey in this book drives the storyline and his emotional growth in the end is the catalyst for everything else. He shows us that it is never too late to become better people if what we are causes pain to the ones we love. Life is full of compromises, we give and we take, and sometimes life throws us a bone that is worth re-evaluating everything we hold dear just to keep it.

A truly wonderful and uplifting book, a delightful writing style, even Ms Probst clichés leave a sweet taste in your mouth. The second book in the series – The Marriage Trap – comes out on 2 October and I have been counting down the days with pleasurable anticipation.

5stars

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