Read The Back-Up Plan Online

Authors: Mari Carr

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Erotica

The Back-Up Plan

BOOK: The Back-Up Plan
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Dedication

To Immi. For believing in my stories right from the very beginning. I’m so glad you’re my editor again.

Author’s Note

The laws listed may or may not still be on the books and very few, if any, are actually enforced. Thank God.

Prologue One

Five years earlier

Jason waved the waitress over and ordered another round of tequila shots.

Kristen groaned. “God. No more. I’m already facing a long night with my toilet. Enough rounds.”

Jason laughed. “Lightweight. It’s your birthday, Kris. It’s your God-given duty to get totally wasted and make stupid decisions.”

She rolled her eyes, but accepted the glass the waitress set down in front of her. “I think that’s only true of twenty-first birthdays. I’m turning thirty-five, which means I’ve entered the
should know better than this
phase of my life.”

“You’ve got at least five years before that shit kicks in.”

She laughed. “You’re only saying that because you turned thirty-five a couple months ago and you don’t want to grow up.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But I’m pretty sure forty is plenty old enough to do the adult thing, settle down, get married. Crap like that.”

“The way work’s been lately, I’m afraid I won’t have time to think about getting married until then anyway.”

Jason nodded and stretched. The two of them had been putting in long hours at the office, working their asses off to build a solid business, a law firm with a good reputation. Their diligence and devotion was just now starting to pay off as more and more clients managed to make their way into Mitchell and Grey. Of course, the reward for their hard work was more work. “Yeah. We’ve been building up quite a clientele lately.” Jason lifted his shot glass, grinning widely. They were on their sixth—or was it their seventh—round of Patron. “Here’s to us. The greatest lawyers in the whole damn state.”

Kristen tapped her glass against his and drank, figuring the end of this night was inevitable at this point. What the hell. They’d just won a huge settlement for an important client, the perfect ending to a month of twelve-to-fourteen-hour workdays.

Plus she’d been feeling a bit sorry for herself lately. She wasn’t even sure why she was depressed. It seemed as if she’d lost some of her enthusiasm for…well…everything. The win and her birthday had given her an incentive to actually go out and do something. The celebration was definitely cheering her up.

“Hear, hear,” she added, enjoying the heat provided by the liquor sliding down her throat. As it made its way through her body, it soothed every tense muscle, absorbed every ounce of stress, and melted away all the heavy feelings until she felt boneless, relaxed, happy.

She saw the same drunken contentment on Jason’s face. “So you really plan to get married someday?”

He nodded, the response coming without hesitation. “Of course I do. Don’t you?”

She shrugged. “Never given it much thought.”

“Seriously? I thought women came out of the womb with their wedding day planned, right down to the dress, music and flowers.”

Kristen rolled her eyes. “Not this woman. I don’t have time to dwell on all that romance crap.”

Jason laughed. “God. I swear if not for the tits, I’d think you were a man.”

She shot him a dirty look. He’d made the same comment many times before. Over the years, their relationship had evolved from adversaries in law school, both of them competing to be the best in their class, to work colleagues consumed by the same drive to succeed, to casual friends who shared a drink on occasion and argued good-naturedly about pretty much everything. Jason’s number one form of entertainment was teasing her, which was fine because she was just as fond of giving it right back to him. “I’d prefer it if you kept your eyes north of the tit range.”

Her admonition was wasted on Jason whose line of vision was nowhere near any part of her anatomy at the moment. Instead he was ogling the group of women who’d just arrived at the bar, laughing loudly and clearly enjoying a bachelorette party. She checked her watch and considered calling for a cab now. It wouldn’t take Jason long to make his way over to the group of women and charm them all into including him in their celebration, which would leave her drinking alone. She’d watched him do the same thing time after time.

For some unfathomable reason she simply couldn’t understand, women found her arrogant, cocky, putting-the-moves-on, womanizing law partner irresistible. Sometimes, as she listened to him recount all the gory details of his one-night stands, it made Kristen ashamed of her gender.

She was about to excuse herself when Jason’s attention returned to her.

“I think maybe it’s time both of us seriously thought about marriage.”

She frowned. “What?”

“I’m not saying we should go out tomorrow and tie the knot, but I know for a fact, I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life alone.”

“Thought you reveled in your bachelor status.”

He shrugged. “I enjoy it now, but let’s face it. There’s a difference between picking women up in bars at thirty-five and trying to do it when I’m sixty-five. I’ll be getting older, but the type of women who come here to drink on the weekends won’t. At some point that makes me less bachelor and more creepy dirty old man.”

Kristen laughed as she imagined Jason in thirty years, wearing leisure suits and gold chains, swaggering around as he tried to put the moves on some poor young woman.

Clearly Jason had given this dilemma some thought. Given his tendency to live in the moment with no regard for the future, she was shocked to discover there was actually an iota of maturity inside him. “Very astute observation. I look forward to attending your wedding.”

Jason rubbed his jaw, deep in thought about something. “Of course, it’s not that easy finding someone you’d be willing to spend the rest of your life with.”

Kristen nodded, agreeing. Whenever she considered the matrimonial state, she knew she’d yet to meet any man who made her think…
and they lived happily ever after
.

“How long have we been friends, Kris?”

She gave him a shit-eating grin. “Friends? Is that what we’re calling this now?”

Jason ignored her jest. “We met freshman year of law school, so we were both twenty-two. Damn. Thirteen years. That’s a long time.”

Kristen agreed. “Painfully long. Is there a point to this walk down memory lane?”

He reached for her purse, yanking it open.

“Hey.” She tried to grab it, but Jason had already found what he was looking for, withdrawing a pen and tossing her bag back to her across the table. “You know you could have just asked. It’s rude to rifle through a woman’s purse.”

He didn’t bother to respond or apologize. Instead he asked the waitress for a clean cocktail napkin. Once he had it, he started writing on it.

“Grocery list?” Kristen asked.

“Contract.”

She tilted her head. “What sort of contract?”

“You and I are going to make a back-up plan.”

“For what?”

Jason kept writing, letting her question hover in the air unanswered. Once he finished, he reread the words and nodded, apparently pleased with his efforts. “That should do it. Now we just need to grab a witness and sign it.”

She leaned back in her chair. “Sign what?”

Jason handed her the napkin.

Jason Mitchell and Kristen Grey do hereby agree that if neither of them is married by Kristen’s fortieth birthday, they will marry each other.

Kristen giggled.
Oh yeah. That’s gonna happen.

Jason had also included the date and drawn some lines she assumed were meant for their signatures.

She stopped laughing when she spied his far-too-serious face. “It’s a joke, right?”

He shook his head, which sobered her up a bit.

“You’ve lost your mind. There’s no way I’m signing that.”

Jason leaned closer and she prepared herself for the onslaught. The man was a master of persuasion. She’d seen him use his abilities time after time—to sway juries, to win over judges, to pick up women.

However, Kristen was not without weapons. Her stubbornness seemed to be the only thing that had ever tarnished Jason’s silver tongue.

“Think about it, Kris. We’ve been friends and partners for thirteen years. Right now, that makes this the longest relationship I’ve ever had with a woman.”

“This isn’t a relationship. It’s an endurance contest, a test to see which of us can outlast the other. Face it, we’re Darwinism at its finest.”

Jason chuckled. “If you think about what I’m saying, you’ll see the same holds true for you. I’ve been in your life longer than any other man.”

She grimaced. “God. That’s a depressing thought.”

“This contract isn’t a proposal. It’s a contingency plan. A back-up. We’ll spend the next five years searching for our perfect mate. But, if at the end of that time, we’re both still alone, then I say we admit defeat in the relationship arena and just marry each other. That way we won’t have to live the rest of our lives alone. Plus it makes things very simple financially since we’re already equal partners in the law firm. No muss, no fuss.”

Kristen tried to think of a counter argument, but her mind was a complete blank, filled with nothing but fog and tequila fumes. Worse than that, his comments actually made some sort of strange sense to her. “Dammit. I’m drunk.”

Jason laughed. “You’re just now figuring that out?”

“Freaking tequila is messing with my head.”

“Why do you say that?”

She reached for the pen lying on the table between them. “Because this actually seems like a good idea.”

Jason hooted, raising his hand for a high five—that she returned—after she signed her name. He gestured for the waitress to join them, explained his cocktail contract to her, then he signed as the waitress rolled her eyes. The entire deal was sealed when their waitress witness added her own name to the napkin, muttering something about lawyers being weird as she walked away.

Kristen started to put the napkin in her purse, but Jason snatched it from her. “Nope. That’s mine.”

She frowned. “What difference does it make who keeps it?”

Jason tucked the napkin in his pocket. “I know you. You’ll toss it tomorrow morning when you’re sober.”

Kristen pointed to the pocket of his jeans. “Maybe so, but it probably has a better chance of surviving in my possession than yours. There’s no way in hell that napkin won’t end up destroyed in your washing machine. You don’t strike me as a
check the pockets before you do the laundry
type.”

Jason gave her a wicked grin. “I guess you’ll just have to wait five years to find out.”

Kristen laughed, then put the contract out of her mind. Five years was plenty of time to find a suitable husband. Until then—she raised her hand to order another round—she’d just enjoy her freedom, the tequila and her birthday.

Prologue Two

Fast-forward five years to New Year’s Eve

“Why the hell do you want to get married?”

Kristen Grey kicked off her shoes and plopped her feet on the ottoman, not at all surprised by her friend Laura’s question.

They were sitting together at yet another Thursday wine night in Laura’s townhouse—drinking and gabbing with four other girlfriends from the complex. The difference with this Thursday was that it also happened to be New Year’s Eve.

Kristen wasn’t sure what it was about that particular holiday that made some people maudlin. Apparently, the last day in the calendar year was the date chosen for reflection and regrets. Not a good thing considering how much alcohol was also usually consumed on this night. Putting disappointment and booze together never ended well and most of the resolutions didn’t last beyond the end of the hangover on January second.

This year, the New Year’s bug had bitten Zoey and she’d taken the rest of them down with her, prompting each of them to make goals for a second chance at happiness. The six of them resided on what Kristen liked to refer to as Losers’ Lane. Each of them had moved here for different reasons, but the end result was the same. They were all alone.

When Kristen had originally moved into the townhouse, her intention had been to save money for a down payment on a real home. She’d pinch pennies until she had enough to buy her dream house. Only problem was…she never left.

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