Jennifer Probst is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Marriage to a Billionaire series–the final installment to the series, The Marriage Merger, is on sale now! Below, Jennifer dishes on how marriage features in her books, as well as on her own real-life Prince Charming. 

On Marriage…

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of marriage in romance novels.

At first, after reading voraciously through hundreds of romance books, I realized marriage occurred at the end of the story. The happy ever after part. The angst and crazy sex and I love yous were done, they promised to be with each other forever, got married, and then the book ended.

Huh. Funny, I always craved…more.

What happened after the ‘I do’s? Did they fight over household chores and kids and work? Did they still have crazy sex every day and night? Did they still genuine enjoy each other? And what was their daily routine about?

Marriage is one of the most controversial subjects in the world. To marry or not. To live together or not. To divorce or not. To put a ring on it or not.

I discovered one of my favorite tropes and ideas was the marriage of convenience. I loved the way it thrust together a hero and heroine who were either at odds, strangers, or complete opposites. Now, that’s a juicy conflict right from the start. People begin discovering things they never realized—sometimes deep, dark secrets or issues buried underneath the polite, civil surface. This intrigued me, the unveiling of layers and vulnerability of a person.

When two people live in the same house, share meals, time, television, and food, there will be some major issues. Exploit those issues and you have a book with some great conflict, and full characters who are real.

Those are the types of books I want to read. And write.

The Marriage to a Billionaire series highlights different types of forced marriages. In The Marriage Bargain, I threw together Nick and Alexa who had grown up together and grown apart. He was her best friend’s older brother and held completely different ideals from Alexa. When I made them live together in a marriage of convenience, passion flared, but it was a lot more than that. Walls began to break down. Truth was revealed. Chaos ensued. And real feelings came to life that needed to be dealt with…or not. That’s what happens when two people are sharing intimate space—it becomes much more than sex.

With The Marriage Trap, I used marriage as a farce in order to keep Maggie and Michael united, pretending to be more intimate than they are. With the pretense, they began to learn more about each other, especially under the family’s watchful eye. There’s nothing to hide when your big Italian family is around. Mama pushes you into the kitchen and pushes your buttons. Drama unfolds with cousins and siblings. And within the mess, people get to the know the real person behind the mask.

In The Marriage Mistake, Carina had been in love with Max, her brother’s older best friend, for her entire life. She focused on seducing him, in an attempt to wring him out of her system, and he fought her every step of the way. After they finally slept together, old world Italian tradition and Mama Conte forced them to marry. Through marriage, Carina realizes who she is and what she deserves, and pushes Max to go after what he wants. There was a huge growth arc when they married, which broke them apart so they could eventually get back together. There is nothing more lonely than a marriage where there is no communication or mistaken feelings. Using that challenge makes the story unique.

Finally, in The Marriage Merger, Julietta and Sawyer strike a business deal after real feelings begin to develop. Unfortunately, Sawyer is so filled with pain from his past, he is unable to give Julietta what she wants, so he figures it’s easier to give her nothing at all. Sound familiar? Again, marriage is the bridge to force them to deal with emotions and realize how much more they have between them than just erotic, no holds barred sex.

What I love about this series is the opportunity to re-visit my characters way past when their book ends. Peek into their lives and see how they’re doing. They struggle. They don’t have sex as often, realistically, with the children around. My heroines dislike being pregnant. But there’s a bond that shimmers around them, protects them, and allows the reader to glimpse that it may not be glamorous and fun all the time, but it’s real. It’s true. It’s today. And that’s what it’s all about.

As for me, I spent most of my life chasing rainbows and angst and bad boys. When I finally realized what I wanted, truly needed, I made my list and finally met my husband. That time around, I looked at marriage differently. It was day to day. It was about a sense of humor. Compromise. Helping each other when you didn’t want to.

Marriage is now getting just as excited about going to Sesame Place like we used to get excited over an island getaway. It’s about arguing about the remote, and complaining over snoring, and shuffling children from activity to activity in a non glamorous mini van.

But I’ll share a special story that symbolizes everything to me. My husband gets a lot of flak regarding my career, since he’s termed one of the most unromantic men in the world. Seriously. He doesn’t hold my hand when we walk, drops me at parties for his buddies, and needs to be reminded months before any holiday, birthday, or anniversary.

I surprised my husband with a cruise a few years ago. We’d never been away without the kids, and we were a bit nervous. We had a wonderful time, and visiting the Grand Caymans, we strolled into a jewelry store where the saleswoman showed me one of the most beautiful rings I’d ever seen. When I salivated over it, she said to me, “You can have this for yourself.”

I laughed hard. “No, I can’t. We’d be eating macaroni and cheese for months. My husband would freak.”

My husband then looked at the ring. Studied my face. And asked me if I wanted it.

“I can’t have this ring!” I said. “We can’t afford it. That’s crazy.”

He calmly repeated the question. “Do you want this ring?”

I gulped. Nodded. “Of course I want the ring! But we can’t.”

He asked to see the manager. Haggled. And bought me the ring.

The manager uncorked a bottle of champagne. I looked at this amazing piece of jewelry sparkling on my finger and shook my head. “Why did you do this?” I whispered.

He shrugged. “Because I love you.”

That’s it. He didn’t want to talk about it any longer. Didn’t want any thank you or tears. We lived on a strict budget for six whole months, but he made it work, and every time I look down at my ring, I remember he loves me. And he’s in it for the long, messy haul. He sees me at my worst, my ugliest, my meanest, my most vulnerable.

That’s marriage. That’s why I love to write about it, explore it, and live it.

I really hope you enjoy the latest installment of the Marriage to a Billionaire series!!