A Tricky Proposition(4)

By: Cat Schield



But long before that she knew Jason wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their friendship.

“Have you told him about your plans to have a baby yet?”

“I mentioned it to him this afternoon.”

She was equally disappointed and relieved that she’d decided against asking Jason to help her get pregnant. Raising his child would muddle her already complicated emotions where he was concerned. It would be easier to get over her romantic yearnings if she had no expectations.

“How did he take it?”

“Once he gets used to the idea, I think he’ll be happy for me.” Her throat locked up. She’d really been counting on his support.

“Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling you that you’re on the wrong path.”

“I don’t need the universe to tell me anything. I have you.” Although Ming kept her voice light, her heart was heavy. She was torn between living her dream and disrupting her relationships with those she loved. What if this became a wedge between her and Lily? Or her and Jason? Ming hated the idea of being pulled in opposite directions by her longing to be a mom and her fear of losing the closeness she shared with either of them.

To comfort herself, she stared at her photo wall, the proof of what she’d achieved these past seven years. Hundreds of smiles lightened her mood and gave her courage.

“I guess you and I will just have to accept that neither one of us is making a decision the other is happy with,” Ming said.

*

Jason paced from one end of his large office to the other. Beyond his closed door, the offices of Sterling Bridge Company emptied. It was a little past six, but Jason had given up working hours ago. As the chief financial officer of the family’s bridge construction business, he was supposed to be looking over some last-minute changes in the numbers for a multimillion-dollar project they were bidding on next week, but he couldn’t focus. Not surprising after Ming’s big announcement today.

She’d be a great mom. Patient. Loving. Stern when she had to be. If he’d voiced doubts it wasn’t because of her ability to parent, but how hard it would be for her to do it on her own. Naturally Ming wouldn’t view any difficulty as too much trouble. She’d embrace the challenges and surpass everyone’s expectations.

But knowing this didn’t stop his uneasiness. His sense that he should be there for her. Help her.

Help her what?

Get pregnant.

Raise his child?

His gut told him it was the right thing to do even if his brain warned him that he was embarking on a fool’s journey. They were best friends. This was when best friends stepped up and helped each other out. If the situation was reversed and he wanted a child, she’d be the woman he’d choose to make that happen.

But if they did this, things could get complicated. If his brother found out that Jason had helped Ming become a mother, the hurt they caused might lead to permanent estrangement between him and Evan.

On the other hand, Ming deserved to get the family she wanted.

Another thirty minutes disappeared with Jason lost in thought. Since he couldn’t be productive at the office, he decided to head home. A recently purchased ’73 Dodge Charger sat in his garage awaiting some TLC. In addition to his passion for racing, he loved buying, fixing up and selling classic muscle cars. It’s why he’d chosen his house in the western suburbs. The three-acre estate had afforded him the opportunity to build a six-car garage to house his rare collection.

On the way out, Jason passed his brother’s office. Helping Ming get pregnant would also involve keeping another big secret from his brother. Jason resented that she still worried about Evan’s feelings after the way he’d broken off their engagement. Would it be as awkward for Evan to be an uncle to his ex-fiancée’s child as it had been for Jason to watch his best friend fall in love with his brother?

From the moment Ming and Evan had begun dating, tension had developed between Jason and his brother. An unspoken rift that was territorial in nature. Ming and Jason were best friends. They were bonded by difficult experiences. Inside jokes. Shared memories. In the beginning, it was Evan who was the third wheel whenever the three of them got together. But this wasn’t like other times when Ming had dated. Thanks to her long friendship with Jason, she was practically family. Within months, it was obvious she and Evan were perfectly matched in temperament and outlook, and the closer Ming and Evan became, the more Jason became the outsider. Which was something he resented. Ming was his best friend and he didn’t like sharing her.

Entering his brother’s office, Jason found Evan occupying the couch in the seating area. Evan was three years older and carried more weight on his six-foot frame than Jason, but otherwise, the brothers had the same blue eyes, dark blond hair and features. Both resembled their mother, who’d died in a car accident with their nine-year-old sister when the boys were in high school.

The death of his wife and daughter had devastated their father. Tony Sterling had fallen into a deep depression that lasted six months and almost resulted in the loss of his business. And if Jason hadn’t snuck into the garage one night to “borrow” the car for a joyride and found his father sitting behind the wheel with the garage filling with exhaust fumes, Tony might have lost his life.

This pivotal event had happened when Jason was only fifteen years old and had marked him. He swore he would never succumb to a love so strong that he would be driven to take his own life when the love was snatched away. It had been an easy promise to keep.

Jason scrutinized his brother as he crossed the room, his footfalls soundless on the plush carpet. Evan was so focused on the object in his hand he didn’t notice Jason’s arrival until he spoke.

“Want to catch dinner?”

Evan’s gaze shot toward his brother, and in a furtive move, he pocketed the earrings he’d been brooding over. Jason recognized them as the pearl-and-diamond ones his brother had given to Ming as an engagement present. What was his brother doing with them?

“Can’t. I’ve already got plans.”

“A date?”

Evan got to his feet and paced toward his desk. With his back to Jason, he spoke. “I guess.”

“You don’t know?”

That was very unlike his brother. When it came to living a meticulously planned existence, the only one more exacting than Evan was Ming.

Evan’s hand plunged into the pocket he’d dropped the earrings into. “It’s complicated.”

“Is she married?”

“No.”

“Engaged?”

“No.”

“Kids?”

“Let it go.” Evan’s exasperation only increased Jason’s tension.

“Does it have something to do with Ming’s earrings in your pocket?” When Evan didn’t answer, Jason’s gut clenched, his suspicions confirmed. “Haven’t you done enough damage there? She’s moving on with her life. She doesn’t need you stirring things up again.”

“I didn’t plan what happened. It just did.”

Impulsive behavior from his plan-everything-to-death brother? Jason didn’t like the sound of that. It could only lead to Ming getting hurt again.

“What exactly happened?”

“Lily and I met for a drink a couple months ago.”

“You and Lily?” He almost laughed at the odd pairing. While Evan and Ming had been perfectly compatible, Evan and Lily were total opposites. Then he sobered. “Just the once?”

“A few times.” Evan rubbed his face, bringing Jason’s attention to the dark shadows beneath his eyes. His brother looked exhausted. And low. “A lot.”

“Have you thought about what you’re doing?” When it came to picking sides, Jason would choose Ming every time. In some ways, she was more like family to him than Evan. Jason had certainly shared more of himself with her. “Don’t you think Ming will be upset if she finds out you and her sister are dating?”

Before Evan could answer, Jason’s cell began to ring. With Ming’s heart in danger and his brother in his crosshairs, Jason wouldn’t have allowed himself to be distracted if anyone else on the planet was calling. But this was Ming’s ringtone.

“We’ll talk more about this later,” he told his brother, and answered the call as he exited. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Lily.” There was no mistaking the cry for help in Ming’s voice.

Jason’s annoyance with his brother flared anew. Had Ming found out what was going on? “What about her?”

“She’s moving to Portland. What am I going to do without her?”

What a relief. Ming didn’t yet know that her sister was dating Evan, and if Lily moved to Portland then her relationship with her sister’s ex-fiancé would have to end.

“You still have me.” He’d intended to make his tone light, but on the heels of his conversation with his brother moments before, his declaration came out like a pledge. “Do you want to catch a drink and talk about it? We could continue our earlier conversation.”

“I can’t. Terry and I are having dinner.”

“Afterward?”

“It’s been a long day. I’m heading home for a glass of wine and a long, hot bath.”

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