A Tricky Proposition(2)

By: Cat Schield



Air puffing out in a sigh, she headed for the wood gate that led directly to the parking lot. Jason was at her side, dog tucked beneath his arm, before she reached the pavement.

“Where’s your car?” he asked.

“I walked. It’s only two blocks.”

Given that humidity wasn’t a factor on this late-September afternoon, she should have enjoyed her stroll to the restaurant. But what she wanted to discuss with Jason had tied her up in knots.

“Come on. I’ll drive you back.” He took her hand, setting off a shower of sparks that heightened her senses.

The spicy scent of his cologne infiltrated her lungs and caused the most disturbing urges. His warm, lean body bumped against her hip. It was moments like these when she was tempted to call her receptionist and cancel her afternoon appointments so she could take Jason home and put an end to all the untidy lust rampaging through her body.

Of course, she’d never do that. She’d figure out some other way to tame the she-wolf that had taken up residence beneath her skin. All their lives she’d been the conservative one. The one who studied hard, planned for the future, organized her life down to the minute. Jason was the one who acted on impulse. Who partied his way through college and still managed to graduate with honors. And who liked his personal life unfettered by anyone’s expectations.

They neared his car, a 1969 Camaro, and Jason stepped forward to open the passenger door for her. Being nothing more than friends didn’t stop him from treating her with the same chivalry he afforded the women he dated. Before she could sit down he had to pluck an eighteen-inch trophy off her seat. Despite the cavalier way he tossed the award into the backseat, Ming knew the win was a source of pride to him and that the trophy would end up beside many others in his “racing” room.

“So what else is on your mind?” Jason asked, settling behind the wheel and starting the powerful engine. Sometimes he knew what she was thinking before she did.

“It’s too much to get into now.” She cradled Muffin in her arms and brushed her cheek against the terrier’s silky coat. The dog gave her hand a happy lick.

“Give me the CliffsNotes version.”

Jason accelerated out of the parking lot, the roar of the 427 V-8 causing a happy spike in Ming’s heart rate. Riding shotgun in whatever Jason drove had been a thrill since the year he’d turned sixteen and gotten his first muscle car. Where other boys in school had driven relatively new cars, Jason and Max preferred anything fast from the fifties, sixties and seventies.

“It doesn’t matter because I changed my mind.”

“Changed your mind about what?”

“About what I was going to ask you.” She wished he’d just drop it, but she knew better. Now that his curiosity had been aroused, he would bug her until he got answers. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Sure it does. You’ve been acting odd for weeks now. What’s up?”

Ming sighed in defeat. “You asked me who was going to be the father.” She paused to weigh the consequences of telling him. She’d developed a logical explanation that had nothing to do with her longing to have a deeper connection with him. He never had to know how she really felt. Her heart a battering ram against her ribs, she said, “I wanted it to be you.”

*

Silence dominated until Jason stopped the car in front of the medical building’s entrance. Ming’s announcement smacked into him like the heel of her hand applied to his temple. That she wanted to have a baby didn’t surprise him. It’s what had broken up her and Evan. But that she wanted Jason to be the father caught him completely off guard.

Had her platonic feelings shifted toward romance? Desire?

Unlikely.

She’d been his best friend since first grade. The one person he’d let see his fear when his father had tried to commit suicide. The only girl who’d listened when he went on and on about his goals and who’d talked sense into him when doubts took hold.

In high school, girlfriends came and went, but Ming was always there. Smart and funny, her almond-shaped eyes glowing with laughter. She provided emotional support without complicating their relationship with exasperating expectations. If he canceled plans with her she never pouted or ranted. She never protested when he got caught up working on car engines or shooting hoops with his buddies and forgot to call her. And more often than not, her sagacity kept Jason grounded.

She would have made the perfect girlfriend if he’d been willing to ruin their twenty-five-year friendship for a few months of romance. Because eventually his eye would wander and she’d be left as another casualty of his carefully guarded heart.

He studied her beautiful oval face. “Why me?”

Below inscrutable black eyes, her full lips kicked up at the corners. “You’re the perfect choice.”

The uneasy buzz resumed in the back of his mind. Was she looking to change their relationship in some way? Link herself to him with a child? He never intended to marry. Ming knew that. Accepted it. Hadn’t she?

“How so?”

“Because you’re my best friend. I know everything about you. Something about having a stranger’s child makes me uncomfortable.” She sighed. “Besides, I’m perfectly comfortable being a single parent. You are a dedicated bachelor. You won’t have a crisis of conscience and demand your parental rights. It’s perfect.”

“Perfect,” he echoed, reasoning no matter what she claimed, a child they created together would connect them in a way that went way beyond friendship.

“You’re right. I don’t want marriage or kids. But fathering your child…” Something rumbled in his subconscious, warning him to stop asking questions. She’d decided against asking him to help her get pregnant. He should leave it at that.

“Don’t say it that way. You’re making it too complicated. We’ve been friends forever. I don’t want anything to change our relationship.”

Too late for that. “Things between us changed the minute you started dating Evan.”

Jason hadn’t welcomed the news. In fact, he’d been quite displeased, which was something he’d had no right to feel. If she was nothing more than his friend, he should have been happy that she and Evan had found each other.

“I know. In the beginning it was awkward, but I never would have gone out with him if you hadn’t given me your blessing.”

What other choice did he have? It wasn’t as if he intended to claim her as anything other than a friend. But such rational thinking hadn’t stood him in good stead the first time he’d seen his brother kiss her.

“You didn’t need my blessing. If you wanted to date Evan, that was your business.” And he’d backed off. Unfortunately, distance had lent him perspective. He’d begun to see her not only as his longtime friend, but also as a desirable woman. “But let’s get back to why you changed your mind about wanting me.”

“I didn’t want you,” she corrected, one side of her mouth twitching. “Just a few of your strongest swimmers.”

She wanted to make light of it, but Jason wasn’t ready to oblige her. “Okay, how come you changed your mind about wanting my swimmers?”

She stared straight ahead and played with the Yorkie’s ears, sending the dog into a state of bliss. “Because we’d have to keep it a secret. If anyone found out what we’d done, it would cause all sorts of hard feelings.”

Not anyone. Evan. She’d been hurt by his brother, yet she’d taken Evan’s feelings into consideration when making such an important decision. She’d deserved better than his brother.

“What if we didn’t keep it a secret? My dad would be thrilled that one of his sons made him a grandfather,” Jason prompted.

“But he’d also expect you to be a father.” Her eyes soft with understanding, she said, “I wouldn’t ask that of you.”

He resented her assumption that he wouldn’t want to be involved. Granted, until ten minutes earlier he’d never considered being a parent, but suddenly Jason didn’t like the idea that his child would never know him as his father. “I don’t suppose I can talk you out of this.”

“My mind is set. I’m going to have babies.”

“Babies?” He ejected the word and followed it up with a muttered curse. “I thought it was a baby. Now you’re fielding a baseball team?”

A goofy snort of laughter escaped her. Unattractive on ninety-nine percent of women, the sound was adorable erupting from her long, thin nose. It probably helped that her jet-black eyes glittered with mischief, inviting him to join in her amusement.

“What’s so funny?” he demanded.

She shook her head, the action causing the ebony curtains of hair framing her exotic Asian features to sway like a group of Latin dancers doing a rumba. “You should see the look on your face.”

He suppressed a growl. There was not one damn thing about this that was funny. “I thought this was a one-time deal.”

“It is, but you never know what you’re going to get when you go in vitro. I might have triplets.”

Jason’s thoughts whirled. “Triplets?” Damn. He hadn’t adjusted to the idea of one child. Suddenly there were three?

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