Marriage wanted, p.2
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       Marriage Wanted, p.2

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “You’re a babe in the woods, aren’t you?”

  “I beg your pardon?” Savannah said, looking up.

  “You actually believe all this…absurdity?”

  “I certainly don’t think of love and commitment as absurd, if that’s what you mean, Mr. Davenport.”

  “Call me Nash.”

  “All right,” she agreed reluctantly. In a few minutes she was going to show him the door. He hadn’t bothered to disguise the purpose of his visit. He was trying to pump her for information and hadn’t figured out yet that she refused to be placed in the middle between him and his sister.

  “Did you ever stop to realize that over fifty percent of the couples who marry in this day and age end up divorcing?”

  “I know the statistics.”

  He walked purposely toward her as if approaching a judge’s bench, intent on proving his point. “Love is a lame excuse for marriage.”

  Since he was going to make it impossible for her to concentrate, she sat back on her stool and folded her arms. “What do you suggest couples do then, Mr. Davenport? Just live together?”

  “Nash,” he reminded her irritably. “And, yes, living together makes a lot more sense. If a man and woman are so hot for each other, I don’t see any reason to muddy the relationship with legalities when a weekend in bed would simplify everything.”

  Savannah resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Rejecting marriage made as much sense to her as pushing a car over a cliff because the fender was dented. Instead she asked, “Is this what you want Susan and Kurt to do? Live together indefinitely? Without commitment?”

  That gave him pause. Apparently it was perfectly fine for other couples to do that, but when it came to his little sister, he hesitated. “Yes,” he finally said. “Until this infatuation passes.”

  “What about children?”

  “Susan’s little more than a child herself,” he argued, although she was twenty-four—and in Savannah’s estimation a mature twenty-four. “If she’s smart, she’ll avoid adding to her mistakes,” he said stiffly.

  “What about someone other than your sister?” she demanded, annoyed with herself for allowing him to draw her into this pointless discussion. “Are you suggesting our society should do away with family?”

  “A wedding ring doesn’t make a family,” he returned just as heatedly.

  Savannah sighed deeply. “I think it’s best for us to agree to disagree,” she said, feeling a bit sad. It was unrealistic to think she’d say anything that would change his mind. Susan was determined to marry Kurt, with or without his approval, but she loved her brother, too. That was what made this situation so difficult.

  “Love is a lame excuse to mess up one’s life,” he said, clenching his fists at his side with impotent anger. “A lame excuse.”

  At his third use of the word lame, Savannah inwardly flinched. Because she was sitting behind her desk, he didn’t realize she was “lame.”

  “Marriage is an expensive trap that destroys a man’s soul,” Nash went on to say, ignoring her. “I see the results of it each and every day. Just this afternoon, I was in court for a settlement hearing that was so nasty the judge had to pull both attorneys into chambers. Do you really believe I want my little sister involved in something like that?”

  “Your sister is a grown woman, Mr. Davenport. She’s old enough to make her own decisions.”

  “Mistakes, you mean.”

  Savannah sensed his frustration, but arguing with him would do no good at all. “Susan’s in love. You should know by now that she’s determined to marry Kurt.”

  “In love. Excuses don’t get much worse than that.”

  Savannah had had enough. She stood and realized for the first time how tall Nash actually was. He loomed head and shoulders over her five-foot-three-inch frame. Standing next to him she felt small and insignificant. For all their differences, Savannah could appreciate his concerns. Nash loved his sister; otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to such effort to find out her plans.

  “It’s been interesting,” Nash said, waiting for her to walk around her desk and join him. Savannah did, limping as she went. She was halfway across the room before she saw that he wasn’t following her. Half turning around, she noticed that he was looking at her leg, his features marked by regret.

  “I didn’t mean to be rude,” he said, and she couldn’t doubt his sincerity. What surprised her was his sensitivity. She might have judged this man too harshly. His attitude had irritated her, but she’d also been entertained by him—and by the vigor of their argument.

  “You didn’t know.” She finished her trek to the door, again surprised to realize he hadn’t followed her. “It’s well past my closing time,” she said meaningfully.

  “Of course.” His steps were crisp and uniform as he marched across her shop, stopping abruptly when he reached her. A frown wrinkled his brow as he stared at her again.

  “What’s wrong?”

  He laughed shortly. “I’m trying to figure something out.”

  “If it has to do with Susan and Kurt—”

  “It doesn’t,” he cut in. “It has to do with you.” An odd smile lifted his mouth. “I like you. You’re impertinent, sassy and stubborn.”

  “Oh, really!” She might have been offended if she hadn’t been struggling so hard not to laugh.

  “Really.”

  “You’re tactless, irritating and overpowering,” she responded.

  His grin was transformed into a full-blown smile. “You’re right. It’s a shame, though.”

  “A shame? What are you talking about?”

  “You being a wedding coordinator. It’s a waste. With your obvious organizational skills, you might’ve done something useful. Instead, your head’s stuck in the clouds and you’ve let love and romance fog up your brain. But you know what?” He rubbed the side of his jaw. “There just might be hope for you.”

  “Hope. Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you. There just might be a slim chance of reasoning with you. You’re clearly intelligent and even a little witty. But unfortunately you’re misguided. Now that you’re dealing with your sister’s marriage, however, there’s a remote possibility someone might be able to get through to you.”

  “What do you mean?” he asked, folding his arms over his chest and resting his weight on one foot.

  “Your judgment’s been confused by your clients. By their anger and bitterness and separations. We’re at opposite ends of the same subject. I work with couples when they’re deeply in love and convinced the relationship will last forever. You see them when they’re embittered and disillusioned. But what you don’t seem to realize is that you need to see the glass as half-full and not half-empty.”

  He frowned. “I thought we were talking about marriage.”

  “We are. What you said earlier is true. Fifty percent of all married couples end up divorcing—which means fifty percent of them go on to lead fulfilling, happy lives.”

  Nash’s snort was derisive. He dropped his arms and straightened, shaking his head. “I was wrong. There’s no hope for you. The fifty percent who stay together are just as miserable. Given the opportunity, they’d gladly get out of the relationship.”

  Nash was beginning to irritate her again. “Why is it so difficult for you to believe that there’s such a thing as a happy marriage?”

  “Because I’ve never seen one.”

  “You haven’t looked hard enough.”

  “Have you ever stopped to think that your head’s so muddled with hearts and flowers and happy-ever-afters that you can’t and won’t accept what’s right in front of your eyes?”

  “Like I said, it’s past my closing time.” Savannah jerked open the shop door. The clanging bell marked the end of their frustrating conversation. Rarely had Savannah allowed anyone to get under her skin the way she had Nash Davenport. The man was impossible. Totally unreasonable…

  The woman was impossible. Totally unreasonable.

  Nash couldn’t underst
and why he continued to mull over their conversation. Twenty-four hours had passed, and he’d thought about their verbal sparring match a dozen times.

  Relaxing in his leather office chair, he rolled a pen between his palms. Obviously Savannah didn’t know him well; otherwise, she wouldn’t have attempted to convince him of the error of his views.

  His eyes fell on the phone and he sighed inwardly. Susan was being stubborn and irrational. It was plain that he was going to have to be the one to mend fences. He’d hoped she’d come to her senses, but it wasn’t going to happen. He was her older brother, her closest relative, and if she refused to make the first move, he’d have to do it.

  He looked up Kurt Caldwell’s parents’ phone number. He resented having to contact her there. Luck was with him, however, when Susan herself answered.

  “It’s Nash,” he said. When she was little, her voice rose with excitement whenever he called. Anytime he arrived home, she’d fly into his arms, so glad to see him she couldn’t hold still. He sighed again, missing the child she once was.

  “Hello, Nash,” Susan said stiffly. No pleasure at hearing from him was evident now.

  “How are you doing?” That was the purpose of this call, after all.

  “Fine. How about you?” Her words were stilted, and her stubbornness hadn’t budged an inch. He would have said as much, then thought better of it.

  “I’m fine, too,” he answered.

  The silence stretched between them.

  “I understand you have a wedding coordinator now,” he said, hoping to come across as vaguely interested. She might have defied him, but he would always be her big brother.

  “How do you know that?”

  “Word, uh, gets around.” In fact, he’d learned about it from a family friend. Still, he shouldn’t have said anything. And he wouldn’t have if Savannah hadn’t dominated his thoughts from the moment he’d met her.

  “You’ve had someone checking into my affairs, haven’t you?” Susan lowered her voice to subzero temperatures. “You can’t rule my life, Nash. I’m going to marry Kurt and that’s all there is to it.”

  “I gathered as much from Savannah Charles….”

  “You’ve talked to Savannah?”

  Nash recognized his second mistake immediately. He’d blown it now, and Susan wasn’t going to forgive him.

  “Stop meddling in my life, Nash.” His sister’s voice quavered suspiciously and seconds later the line was disconnected. The phone droned in his ear before he dejectedly replaced the receiver.

  Needless to say, that conversation hadn’t gone well. He’d like to blame Savannah, but it was his fault. He’d been the one to let her name slip, a stupid error on his part.

  The wedding coordinator and his sister were both too stubborn and naive for their own good. If this was how Susan wanted it, then he had no choice but to abide by her wishes. Calling her had been another mistake in a long list he’d been making lately.

  His assistant poked her head in his door, and he gave her his immediate attention. He had more important things to worry about than his sister and a feisty wedding coordinator who lived in a dreamworld.

  “What did my brother say?” Susan demanded.

  “He wanted to know about you,” Savannah said absently as she arranged champagne flutes on the display table next to the five-tier wedding cake. She’d been working on the display between customers for the past hour.

  “In other words, Nash was pumping you for information?”

  “Yes, but you don’t need to worry, I didn’t tell him anything. What I did do was suggest he talk to you.” She straightened, surprised that he’d followed her advice. “He cares deeply for you, Susan.”

  “I know.” Susan gnawed on her lower lip. “I wish I hadn’t hung up on him.”

  “Susan!”

  “I…He told me he’d talked to you and it made me so mad I couldn’t bear to speak to him another second.”

  Savannah was surprised by Nash’s slip. She would’ve thought their conversation was the last thing he’d mention. But from the sound of it, he didn’t get an opportunity to rehash it with Susan.

  “If he makes a pest of himself,” Susan said righteously, “let me know and I’ll…I’ll do something.”

  “Don’t worry about it. I rather enjoyed talking to him.” It was true, although Savannah hated to admit it. She’d worked hard to push thoughts of Nash from her mind over the past couple of days. His attitude had annoyed her, true, but she’d found him intriguing and—it bothered her to confess this—a challenge. A smile came when she realized he probably saw her the same way.

  “I have to get back to work,” Susan said reluctantly. “I just wanted to apologize for my brother’s behavior.”

  “He wasn’t a problem.”

  On her way out the door, Susan muttered something Savannah couldn’t hear. The situation was sad. Brother and sister loved each other but were at an impasse.

  Savannah continued to consider the situation until the bell over the door chimed about five minutes later. Smiling, she looked up, deciding she wasn’t going to get this display finished until after closing time. She should’ve known better than to try.

  “Nash.” His name was a mere whisper.

  “Hello again,” he said dryly. “I’ve come to prove my point.”

  Two

  “You want to prove your point,” Savannah repeated thoughtfully. Nash Davenport was the most headstrong man she’d ever encountered. He was also one of the handsomest. That did more to confuse her than to help. For reasons as yet unclear, she’d lost her objectivity. No doubt it had something to do with that pride of his and the way they’d argued. No doubt it was also because they remained diametrically opposed on the most fundamental issues of life—love and marriage.

  “I’ve given some thought to our conversation the other day,” Nash said, pacing back and forth, “and it seems to me that I’m just the person to clear up your thinking. Besides,” he went on, “if I can clear up your thinking, maybe you’ll have some influence on Susan.”

  Although it was difficult, Savannah resisted the urge to laugh.

  “To demonstrate my good faith, I brought a peace offering.” He held up a white sack for her inspection. “Two lattes,” he explained. He set the bag on the corner of her desk and opened it, handing her one of the paper cups. The smell of hot coffee blended with steamed milk was as welcome as popcorn in a theater. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said next, gesturing toward the stool, “because it might take a while.”

  “I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Savannah felt obliged to say as she carefully edged onto the stool.

  “It’s a great idea. Just hear me out,” he said smoothly.

  “Oh, all right,” she returned with an ungracious nod. Savannah might have had the energy to resist him if it hadn’t been so late in the day. She was tired and the meeting with Susan had frustrated her. She’d come to her upset and unhappy, and Savannah had felt helpless, not knowing how to reassure the younger woman.

  Nash pried off the lid of his latte, then glanced at his watch. He walked over to her door and turned over the sign so it read Closed.

  “Hey, wait a minute!”

  “It’s—” he looked at his watch again “—5:29 p.m. You’re officially closed in one minute.”

  Savannah didn’t bother to disagree. “I think it’s only fair for you to know that whatever you have to say isn’t going to change my mind,” she said.

  “I figured as much.”

  The man continued to surprise her. “How do you intend to prove your point? Parade divorced couples through my wedding shop?”

  “Nothing that drastic.”

  “Did it occur to you that I could do the same thing and have you meet with a group of blissful newlyweds?” she asked.

  He grinned. “I’m way ahead of you. I already guessed you’d enjoy introducing me to any number of loving couples who can’t keep their hands off each other.”

  Savannah shrugged, not
denying it.

  “The way I figure it,” he said, “we both have a strong argument to make.”

  “Exactly.” She nodded. “But you aren’t going to change my mind and I doubt I’ll change yours.” She didn’t know what kept some couples together against all odds or why others decided to divorce when the first little problem arose. If Nash expected her to supply the answers, she had none to offer.

  “Don’t be so sure we won’t change each other’s mind.” Which only went to prove that he thought there was a chance he could influence her. “We could accomplish a great deal if we agree to be open-minded.”

  Savannah cocked one eyebrow and regarded him skeptically. “Can you guarantee you’ll be open-minded?”

  “I’m not sure,” he answered, and she was impressed with his honesty. “But I’m willing to try. That’s all I ask of you.”

  “That sounds fair.”

  He rubbed his palms together as though eager to get started. “If you don’t object, I’d like to go first.”

  “Just a minute,” she said, holding up her hand. “Before we do, shouldn’t we set some rules?”

  “Like what?”

  Although it was her suggestion, Savannah didn’t really have an answer. “I don’t know. Just boundaries of some kind.”

  “I trust you not to do anything weird, and you can count on the same from me,” he said. “After all—”

  “Don’t be so hasty,” she interrupted. “If we’re going to put time and effort into this, it makes sense that we have rules. And something riding on the outcome.”

  His blue eyes brightened. “Now there’s an interesting thought.” He paused and a smile bracketed his mouth. “So you want to set a wager?”

  Nash seemed to be on a one-man campaign to convince her the world would be a better place without the institution of marriage. “We might as well make it interesting, don’t you think?”

  “I couldn’t agree more. If you can prove your point and get me to agree that you have, what would you want in exchange?”

  This part was easy. “For you to attend Susan and Kurt’s wedding. It would mean the world to Susan.”

 
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