A Convenient Proposal(4)

“You’re already involved?”

“No.” She gave the word more emphasis than it deserved. “I have no demands on my time or…or my affections.”

“But you won’t do me this favor? I know it’ll take a couple months. Well, six weeks, anyway. Maybe seven. And then you’ll be free to come home. Would it be so bad to spend a little time on the mainland, eating good Southern food?”

“Of course not.” Trying to explain why this was a bad idea would expose too many scars she didn’t like to think about, let alone reveal to a stranger. “I simply…I don’t think…”

Once more he came close, laying his warm hands on her bare shoulders. Until that moment, Arden hadn’t realized how chilly she’d gotten in the late night breeze.

“Is there something you want or need, Arden? Something I can give you? I’m not filthy rich, but I could probably grant most reasonable requests. Jewelry?” He looked her up and down, then shook his head, because she wasn’t even wearing earrings. “Clothes? A car? Land? My family owns some nice property on the Georgia coast and in the mountains, up near Lake Lanier. Tell me what you want. Let’s see if somehow I can make it happen.”

Instead of looking at his all too tempting face, Arden stared down at the sand between her bare feet and his. An idea popped into her mind, burrowing up from somewhere deep in her subconscious, a suggestion so outrageous that he would no doubt turn her down immediately and walk out of her life without a glance backward.

And that was exactly what she wanted, wasn’t it?

Lifting her head, Arden kept her face stern. “There is something I want, Griff. Something I think you could give me.”

His hands tightened on her upper arms. “Great. Just spare me two months of your life and I’ll do whatever it takes to make your dream come true.”

She hesitated again, then looked him in the eye. “What I want from you, Griff, is simple.

“I want a child.”

GRIFF’S BRAIN WOBBLED inside his skull. “What did you say?”

Arden’s gaze didn’t falter. “A child. I want you to make me pregnant.”

The champagne he’d been drinking nonstop kicked in at that moment, driving his mental wobble into a full-blown, three-hundred-sixty-degree tilt. With the world spinning, Griff stepped away, dropped heavily onto the sand, then collapsed backward to lie spread-eagle on the beach.

“Oh, man,” he groaned. “I drank too much. I’m having hallucinations.”

“You heard me correctly,” the serene voice said from high above him. “But if you’re not interested, I understand. Happy New Year.”

He opened his eyes and saw that she had turned to leave. “Wait.” Flailing a hand sideways, he managed to snag the hem of her dress between two fingers. “Don’t go.”

She could’ve pulled free with one step, but she didn’t.

So Griff tugged at the dress. “Sit down. I can’t talk to you way up there.”

To his surprise, she folded her lithe body into a compact package just out of his reach.

“Thanks.” He let his head drop back, and put an arm over his eyes. The whirling in his brain didn’t stop. “Let me see if I understand. You want me to marry you and make you pregnant?”


“I thought—”

“I want a child. I don’t want a husband.”

That stopped him cold, and the gyrations in his head slowed down a little. “So…we’d be lovers?”

“Briefly. Until I got pregnant.” After a pause, she said, “I would, of course, stay until the, um, favor I’d be doing for you was completed.”

“Right.” His mind drifted back to the New Year’s kiss they’d shared. Powerful incentive, that kiss. He turned his head on the sand to look at her. “Then what?”

She lifted a shoulder. “Then I would come back here, to my home. And you would do whatever you plan to do after the wedding.”

There was a problem with that scenario, but he was having trouble chasing down the specifics. A man would have to be made of stone if he failed to react to the sight of Arden Burke on the beach beside him, with hair like a fringe of black silk along her jawline, her skin as smooth and creamy as magnolia blossoms and her lips the color of a rosy dawn. She was slender but not shapeless, as revealed by the low neck of her dress and the curves of her calves and ankles.

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