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The Marriage Game
by Sara Desai
Publication date: June 9th 2020
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance
One of Oprah Magazine’s Most Anticipated Romances of 2020
A high stakes wager pits an aspiring entrepreneur against a ruthless CEO in this sexy romantic comedy.
After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door…
As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he’s forced to share his space with the owner’s beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.
As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.
“What are you going to do with Hassan?” Sam asked quietly.
“Send him away, of course. I’m not looking for a husband.” Layla handed him the mug and he added milk and sugar.
“I feel bad, though,” she continued. “My dad was just trying to help, and he clearly got Hassan’s hopes up. I thought it would be polite to spend a few minutes getting to know him so he doesn’t feel that I dismissed him out of hand.”
“But you intend to dismiss him out of hand in any event, so why prolong the agony?”
“Because . . .” She poured herself a cup of chai. “I can’t help but wonder. What if he’s the one? Sometimes I think my dad knows me better than I know myself. What if he found the perfect guy for me and I kicked him out the door?”
Sam snorted a laugh. “You think Hassan Khan is your perfect guy?”
As if on cue, Hassan slurped his tea so loudly the sound echoed through the room.
Layla grimaced. “I think it’s unlikely, but I need to make sure.”
Hassan handed Sam a copy of his marriage resume when they returned to the table. With a loud huff of annoyance, Layla snatched the document from Sam’s hand.
“Tell me a little about yourself, Hassan,” she said.
“I’m thirty-five and came to America from Andhra Pradesh to further my education. I am an engineer and will be studying for my MBA. Full disclosure: I am GUC.”
Sam frowned. “GUC?”
“Good used condition.” Layla dipped her head to hide her smile. “You obviously don’t spend much time on Craigslist.”
“How is that you are ‘used’?” Sam asked.
“I’ve been in several relationships that didn’t work out.” Hassan shook his head. “They only wanted me for my body.”
Sam frowned. With his large belly, rounded shoulders, excessive hair and unfortunate choice of clothing, Hassan wasn’t the kind of man women usually found attractive, but there was no accounting for taste.
“I hear you,” Sam said, nodding in sympathy. “I have the same problem.”
Layla snorted. Droplets of chai sprayed out of her nose and across the table, hitting Hassan in the eye. Like a champ, he wiped his face with his sleeve and smiled like nothing had happened.
“Anything else we should know?” Sam asked, intrigued by the story, and Layla’s unladylike response.
“My hobbies include extreme pogo.”
“Watch your language,” Sam barked. “There is a sort-of lady present.”
“Sort-of lady?” Layla narrowed her gaze. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s a sport,” Hassan said. “It involves riding and performing tricks on a special extreme pogo stick that can jump over ten feet in height.”
Sam felt a curious sensation bubble up in his chest. “You bounce around on a giant pogo stick that goes ten feet in the air.”
“Yes.” Hassan pulled out his phone and navigated to a video. “Here I am.”
Something inside Sam threatened to burst as he watched ungainly Hassan bouncing through the air in the middle of a field. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he fought to master the unfamiliar emotion. What the hell was wrong with him?
“Don’t laugh.” Layla hissed under her breath.
Laughter. He remembered it now. It had been a long time.
Layla dropped her hand under the table and dug her nails into his thigh. Almost instantly, the uncontrollable sensation was replaced by another —this one familiar and likely to become problematic if he didn’t get her hand off his lap.
“That’s…” Layla cleared her throat. “Amazing, Hassan. Is there anything else we should know about you?”
“I am veg.”
Sam waited for Hassan to elaborate, but he sat in stony silence.
“I’m actually not a vegetarian.” Layla’s words tumbled over each other like she’d forgotten how to use her tongue. “I like meat. Love it, in fact. I have meat every day. I pretty much grew up in my parents’ restaurant and they serve meat. Which I like eating. Lamb, chicken, beef…”
“I think she’s trying to say she’s carnivorous,” Sam said, biting back his laughter. “Don’t make any sudden moves or she might think you’re prey.”
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Sara Desai has been a lawyer, radio DJ, marathon runner, historian, bouncer and librarian. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband, kids and an assortment of forest creatures who think they are pets. Sara writes sexy romantic comedy and contemporary romance with a multicultural twist. When not laughing at her own jokes, Sara can be found eating nachos.