Marriage wanted, p.14
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       Marriage Wanted, p.14

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “I’m scared, sweetheart, really scared.”

  “I know.” Savannah was, too. “Have you talked to the doctors yet?”

  He shook his head. “How long will it take? She’s been in there for over an hour.”

  “Anytime now, I’m sure.” At the moment, Savannah wasn’t sure of anything, least of all how her father would cope without her mother if it turned out that something was seriously wrong….

  “Mr. Charles.” The doctor approached them, his face revealing concern.

  Automatically Savannah and her father got to their feet, bracing themselves for whatever he might say.

  “Your wife’s suffered a stroke.”

  In the past few weeks, Nash had made a habit of staying late at the office. He no longer liked spending time at the house. It’d been nearly a month since Savannah had been inside his home and he swore that whenever he walked inside, he caught a whiff of her perfume. He knew it was ridiculous, but he’d taken to placing air fresheners at strategic points.

  His bed was also a problem. Savannah had left her imprint there, as well. When he woke in the morning, he could sense her presence. He could almost hear her breathing, feel her breath, her mouth scant inches from his own. It bothered him that a woman could have this powerful an effect on him.

  She’d meant what she said about ending the relationship. Not that he’d expected to hear from her again. He hoped he would, but that was entirely different from expecting her to call.

  More times than he cared to count, he’d resisted the urge to contact her. He’d considered sending flowers with a humorous note, something to break the ice, to salvage his pride and hers, then decided against it.

  She’d made herself clear and he had no option but to abide by her wishes. She didn’t want to see him again. So she wouldn’t. The next move, if there was one, would have to be hers.

  As for that absurd proposal of marriage…Seldom had he regretted anything more. It embarrassed him to think about it, so he avoided doing so whenever possible.

  Someone knocked softly on his office door. He checked his watch, surprised to discover he wasn’t alone at 10:00 p.m.

  “Come in.”

  The door opened and Savannah stood there. She was pale, her features ashen, her eyes red-rimmed as if she’d recently been crying.

  “Savannah,” he said, hurrying around his desk. “What’s wrong?” He didn’t reach for her, much as he wanted to, not knowing if she’d welcome his touch.

  “I’ve come,” she said in a voice that was devoid of emotion, “to tell you I’ve reconsidered. I’ll accept your offer of a marriage of convenience…. That is, if it’s still open.”

  Ten

  “You’re sure about this?” Generally Nash wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this time was the exception. Something had happened to cause Savannah to change her mind, something drastic. Nash was convinced of that.

  “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t sure.” Nervously she reached inside her purse and took out a well-creased slip of paper. “I’ve made up a list of issues we need to discuss first…if you’re willing.”

  “All right.” He gestured toward the guest chair and sat down himself. “But first tell me what happened.”

  “My mother,” she began, and paused as her lower lip began to tremble. She needed a moment to compose herself enough to continue speaking. “Mom’s in the hospital…. She had a stroke.”

  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

  Savannah nodded. “Her prognosis for a complete recovery is excellent, but it frightened me terribly—Dad, too.”

  “I understand.”

  “Mom’s stroke helped me realize I might not have my parents much longer. I refuse to allow them to sacrifice their dreams because of me.”

  “I see.”

  She unfolded the piece of paper in her hands. “Are you ready to discuss the details?”

  “By all means.” He reached for his gold pen and a fresh legal pad.

  “There will be no…lovemaking. You mentioned earlier that you preferred this to be a marriage of convenience, and I’m in full agreement.”

  That had been a hasty suggestion, certainly not one he’d carefully thought out. In light of their strong physical attraction, Nash didn’t believe this stipulation would hold up for more than a few days, a week at the most. The minute he kissed her, or took her in his arms, the chemistry they shared would return.

  “You’re sure about this?” he asked.

  “Positive.”

  Suggesting they wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off each other would inevitably trigger a heated argument. Savannah would accuse him of being arrogant. Nash decided to agree with her for the present and let time prove him right.

  “Do you agree?” Her eyes challenged him to defy her.

  Nash rolled the pen between his palms and relaxed in his leather chair, not wanting to give her any reason to suspect that he had reservations or what they were. “If a marriage in name only is what you want, then naturally I’ll agree to those terms.”

  “Good.” She nodded, much too enthusiastically to suit him.

  “Unless we mutually agree otherwise at some point,” he added.

  Savannah’s eyes darted back to his. “I wouldn’t count on that if I were you. I’m agreeing to this marriage for one reason and one reason only. I want to be sure you understand that.”

  “In other words, you don’t plan to trick me into falling in love with you.” He heard the edge in his own voice and regretted it. Savannah had sacrificed her pride the minute she’d walked through his door; goading wasn’t necessary.

  “This isn’t a game to me, Nash,” she said, her voice sharp. “I’m serious. If you aren’t, maybe we should call it quits right now.”

  “I was the one who suggested this,” he reminded her, not bothering to mention that it had been a spur-of-the-moment idea he’d deplored ever since. He stared at Savannah, noting the changes in her. He’d always viewed her as delicate, feminine. But there was a hardness to her now, a self-protective shell. She didn’t trust him not to hurt her. Didn’t trust him not to destroy her once-unshakable faith in love and marriage.

  “I’ll draw up the papers to read that this will be a marriage of convenience unless we mutually agree otherwise. Does that wording satisfy you?”

  “All right, as long we understand each other.” Her gaze fell to her list. “The second item I have here has to do with our living arrangements. I’ll move in with you for a brief period of time.”

  “How brief?” This didn’t sound any more encouraging than her first stipulation.

  “Until my mother’s well enough to travel south. That’s the reason I’m willing to go through with this, after all. But to be as fair as possible, I’ll stay with you until a senior partner’s named.”

  “I’d appreciate that.” The announcement would come within the month, Nash was certain, although it was taking much longer than he’d assumed. He’d like nothing better than to pull a fast one on Paul. The pompous ass would likely leave the firm. Nash smiled just thinking about it.

  “After that there won’t be any need for us to continue this farce. I’ll move back to my home and we can have the marriage, such as it is, dissolved. Of course, I’ll make no claims on you financially and expect the same.”

  “Of course,” Nash agreed. Yet this talk of divorce so soon after marriage grated on him. It wouldn’t look good to John Stackhouse and Arnold Serle if he was only married for a few weeks. And a quick divorce—any divorce—was the last thing he wanted. “For propriety’s sake, I’d like to suggest we stay married a year,” he said.

  “A year,” she repeated, making it sound as long as a lifetime. She sighed. “Fine. I’ll accept that, provided we both adhere to all the other conditions.”

  “Anything else?” he asked, after making a second notation on the legal pad.

  “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have a few more points.”

  Nash groaned inwardly, but presented a
calm exterior.

  “While I’m living with you, I insist we sleep in separate bedrooms. The less we have to do with each other, the better. You live your life the same as always and I’ll live mine.”

  Nash wrote this down, as well, but made a point of hesitating, making sure she was aware of his uneasiness about this latest dictate. This would be the ideal setup if he was looking for a roommate, but Nash was seeking a deeper commitment.

  “Since you mention propriety…” Savannah began.

  “Yes?” he prompted when she didn’t immediately continue.

  “Although our marriage will be one of convenience, I feel strongly that we should practice a certain code of ethics.” The words were rushed, as if she thought he’d disagree. “I expect you to stop dating other women,” she said, speaking more slowly now. “If I were to discover that you’d been seeing someone else, I would consider that immediate grounds for divorce.”

  “The same would hold true for you,” he returned calmly. It made him wonder what kind of man she thought he was. “If I found out you were interested in another man, then I’d see no reason to continue our agreement.”

  “That isn’t likely to happen,” she blurted out defensively.

  “Any more than it is with me.”

  She clamped her mouth shut and Nash guessed she didn’t believe him. Where had she gotten the impression that he was a playboy? It was true that after his divorce he’d occasionally dated, but there’d never been anyone he was serious about—until Savannah. “We’ll need to be convincing,” she said next, her voice quavering slightly, “otherwise my parents, especially my father, will see through this whole thing in an instant. They aren’t going to be easily fooled, and it’s important we persuade them we’re getting married because we’re in love.”

  “I can be convincing.” He’d gained his reputation swaying twelve-member juries; an elderly couple who wanted to believe he was in love with their daughter would be a piece of cake.

  “I’ll do my best to be the same,” Savannah assured him, relaxing slightly. She neatly folded the sheet of paper, running her fingers along the crease. “Was there anything you wanted to add?”

  Without time to think over their agreement, Nash was at a disadvantage. “I might later.”

  “I…was hoping we could come to terms quickly so I can tell my parents right away.”

  “We’ll tell them together,” Nash said. “Otherwise they’ll find it odd. What do you want to do about the actual wedding ceremony?”

  She looked away, then lowered her gaze. “I wasn’t sure you’d agree so I hadn’t given it much thought. I guess I should have, since I arrange weddings for a living.”

  “Don’t look so chagrined. This isn’t a normal, run-of-the-mill marriage.”

  “Exactly,” she was quick to concur. “I’d like a small gathering. My parents and a few good friends—no more than ten or so. What about you?”

  “About that number.” He’d make sure Serle and Stackhouse received invitations.

  “I’ll arrange for the ceremony, then, followed by dinner. Is that agreeable?”

  He shrugged, not really caring. Small and private appealed to him far more than the lavish gathering Susan had had. At least Savannah wasn’t going to subject him to that, although he felt mildly guilty about cheating her out of a fancy wedding.

  “How long do you think you’ll need to come up with any further stipulations?” she asked.

  “Not long,” he promised, but he had one thought that he mentioned before he could censure it. “I’d like us to make a habit of eating dinner together.”

  “Dinner?” Savannah sounded incredulous.

  His sole condition did seem surprising. But he felt that if they were going to the trouble of getting married, they shouldn’t remain strangers. “We need to spend some time together, don’t you think?”

  “I don’t see why that’s necessary.”

  “It will be if we’re going to create the facade of being married. We’ll need to know what’s going on in each other’s lives.”

  Her nod was reluctant. “I see your point.”

  “We can share the housework, so you don’t need to worry about me sticking you with the cooking and the cleanup afterward. I want to be fair about this.”

  “That seems equitable.”

  “I don’t intend to take advantage of you, Savannah.” It was important she believe that, although it was obvious she didn’t. Even married to Savannah, he didn’t hold out much hope of becoming a senior partner. Not when Paul Jefferson was ingratiating himself with anyone and everyone who could advance his career. But if there was the slightest possibility that he might beat out Paul, Nash was willing to risk it. His dislike for the man increased daily, especially since Paul resented that Nash had been given the Don Griffin case and had made his feelings obvious.

  “What day should I arrange the wedding for?” Savannah asked, flipping through the pages of a small pocket calendar.

  “In a week, if at all possible.” He could tell by the way her eyes widened that she expected more time. “Is that too soon?”

  “Not really…. A week shouldn’t be a problem, although people are going to ask questions.”

  “So? Does that bother you?”

  “Not exactly.”

  “Good.” Nash had little success in hiding a smile.

  “In that case, I think you should write up the agreement right away,” she said. “You can add whatever provisions you want and if I disagree, I’ll cross them out.”

  “Okay. When would you like to tell your parents?”

  “As soon as possible. Tomorrow evening?”

  Nash stood and replaced his pen in the marble holder. “Is your mother still in the hospital?”

  Savannah nodded. “Dad spends almost every minute with her. The nurses told me they tried to send him home the first night, but he refused and ended up sleeping on a cot beside her.”

  “He’s taken this hard, hasn’t he?”

  Savannah nodded. “He’s worried sick…. That’s the main reason I decided to accept your proposal. Mom loves the sunshine and I can’t think of any place she’d enjoy recuperating more than in Arizona with her friends.”

  “In that case, we’ll do everything we can to be sure that happens.”

  “Oh, Savannah.” Her mother’s eyes glistened with the sheen of tears as she sat up in her hospital bed early the next evening. “You’re going to be married.”

  Nash slid his arm around Savannah’s waist with familiar ease and smiled down on her. “I know my timing couldn’t be worse,” he murmured, “but I hope you’ll forgive me.”

  “There’s nothing to forgive. We’re thrilled, aren’t we, Marcus?” Her mother smiled blissfully. Nash was eating up the attention, nuzzling Savannah’s neck, planting kisses on her cheek when he was sure her parents would notice. These open displays of affection were unlike him and were fast beginning to irritate Savannah.

  “This does seem rather sudden, though, doesn’t it?” her father asked. He might have embarrassed her by acting as if Nash was practically her fiancé that first evening, but he was astute about people, and Savannah knew that convincing him would be much more difficult than persuading her mother. Nash must have realized it, too, because he was playing the role as if he expected to earn an award for his performance as the besotted lover.

  “Savannah and I’ve been dating off and on all summer.” He brought her close to his side and dropped a quick kiss on the side of her neck. The moment they were alone, she’d tell him to keep his kisses to himself. Every time he touched his lips to her skin, a shiver of awareness raced up her spine. Nash knew it; otherwise he wouldn’t take every opportunity to make her so uncomfortable.

  “Are you in love?” her father asked her directly.

  “Marcus, what a thing to ask,” her mother said with a flustered laugh. “Savannah and Nash have come to us wanting to share their wonderful news. This isn’t any time to ask a lot of silly questions.”

/>   “Would I marry Nash if I didn’t love him?” Savannah asked, hoping that would be enough to reassure her father.

  “We’d like to have the wedding as soon as possible,” Nash added, looking down at her adoringly.

  “There’s a rush?” her father asked.

  His attitude surprised Savannah. She was prepared for a bit of skepticism, but not this interrogation. Once he was convinced Savannah loved Nash—and vice versa—she didn’t figure there would be any problems.

  “I want Savannah with me,” Nash answered. “It took me a long time to decide to marry again and now that I have, each day without her feels like an eternity.” He reached for her hand and raised it to his lips, then placed a series of soft kisses on her knuckles. He was overdoing it, making fools of them both, and Savannah fumed.

  “You feel the same way about Nash?”

  “Yes, Daddy,” she returned smoothly.

  “I’ve waited all my life for a woman like Savannah.”

  Savannah couldn’t help it; she stepped on Nash’s foot and he yelped, then glared at her accusingly.

  “I’m sorry, darling, did I hurt you?” she asked sweetly.

  “No, I’m fine.” His eyes questioned her, but she ignored the silent entreaty.

  Her father stood at the head of the bed, which was angled up so that her mother was in a sitting position. They were holding hands.

  “Do you object to Savannah marrying Nash?” her father questioned.

  Her mother’s sigh was filled with relief and joy. “Savannah’s far too old to require our approval, and you know it. She can do as she pleases. I don’t understand why you’re behaving as if this is some…some tragedy when our little girl is so happy. Isn’t this what we’ve prayed for all these years?”

  “I know it’s come at you out of the blue, Daddy,” Savannah whispered, the words sticking in her throat, “but you know me well enough to know I’d never marry a man I didn’t love with all my heart.”

  “The sooner Savannah’s in my life, the sooner I can be complete,” Nash added with a dramatic sigh.

 
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