A Tricky Proposition(5)

By: Cat Schield



“Do you want some company?”

Unbidden, his thoughts took him to an intoxicating, sensual place where Ming floated naked in warm, fragrant water. Candles burned, setting her delicate, pale shoulders aglow above the framing bubbles of her favorite bath gel. The office faded away as he imagined trailing his lips along her neck, discovering all the places on her silky skin that made her shiver.

“Jason?” Ming’s voice roused him to the fact that he was standing in the elevator. He didn’t remember getting there.

Damn it. He banished the images, but the sensations lingered.

“What?” he asked, disturbed at how compelling his fantasy had been.

“I asked if I could call you later.”

“Sure.” His voice had gone hoarse. “Have a good dinner.”

“Thanks.”

The phone went dead in his hand. Jason dropped the cell back into his pocket, still reeling from the direction his thoughts had gone. He had to stop thinking of her like that. Unfortunately, once awakened, the notion of making love to Ming proved difficult to coax back to sleep.

He headed to his favorite bar, which promised a beer and a dozen sports channels as a distraction from his problems. It failed to deliver.

Instead, he replayed his conversations with both Ming and Evan in his mind. She wanted to have a baby, wanted Jason’s help to make that happen, but she’d decided against it before he’d had a chance to consider the idea. All because it wouldn’t be fair to Evan if he ever found out.

Would she feel the same if she knew Evan was dating Lily and that he didn’t care if Ming got hurt in the process? That wouldn’t change her mind. Even if it killed her, Ming would want Evan and Lily to be happy.

But shouldn’t she get to be selfish, too? She should be able to choose whatever man she wanted to help her get pregnant. Even the brother of her ex-fiancé. Only Jason knew she’d never go there without a lot of convincing.

And wasn’t that what best friends were for?

*

Fifteen minutes after she’d hung up on Jason, Ming’s heart was still thumping impossibly fast. She’d told herself that when he’d asked if she wanted company for a glass of wine and a hot bath, he hadn’t meant anything sexual. She’d called him for a shoulder to cry on. That’s all he was offering.

But the image of him sliding into her oversize tub while candlelight flickered off the glass tile wall and a thousand soap bubbles drifted on the water’s surface…

“Ready for dinner?”

Jerked out of her musing, Ming spun her chair away from her computer and spied Terry Kincaid grinning at her from the doorway, his even, white teeth dazzling against his tan skin. As well as being her partner in the dental practice and her best girl friend’s father, he was the reason she’d chosen to become an orthodontist in the first place.

“Absolutely.”

She closed her internet browser and images of strollers disappeared from her screen. As crazy as it was to shop for baby stuff before she was even pregnant, Ming couldn’t stop herself from buying things. Her last purchase had been one of those mobiles that hangs above the crib and plays music as it spins.

“You already know how proud I am of you,” Terry began after they’d finished ordering dinner at his favorite seafood place. “When I brought you into the practice, it wasn’t because you were at the top of your class or a hard worker, but because you’re like family.”

“You know that’s how I feel about you, too.” In fact, Terry was so much better than her own family because he offered her absolute support without any judgment.

“And as a member of my family, it was important to me that I come to you with any big life-changing decisions I was about to make.”

Ming gulped. How had he found out what she was going to do? Wendy couldn’t have told him. Her friend knew how to keep a secret.

“Sure,” she said. “That’s only fair.”

“That’s why I’m here to tell you that I’m going to retire and I want you to take over the practice.”

This was the last thing she expected him to say. “But you’re only fifty-seven. You can’t quit now.”

“It’s the perfect time. Janice and I want to travel while we’re still young enough to have adventures.”

In addition to being a competitive sailor, Terry was an expert rock climber and pilot. Where Ming liked relaxing spa vacations in northern California, he and his wife went hang gliding in Australia and zip lining through the jungles of Costa Rica.

“And you want me to have the practice?” Her mind raced at the thought of all the things she would have to learn, and fast. Managing personnel and finances. Marketing. The practice thrived with Terry at the helm. Could she do half as well? “It’s a lot.”

“If you’re worried about the money, work the numbers with Jason.”

“It’s not the money.” It was an overwhelming responsibility to take on at the same time she was preparing for the challenge of being a single mom. “I’m not sure I’m ready.”

Terry was unfazed by her doubts. “I’ve never met anyone who rises to the challenge the way you do. And I’m not going to retire next week. I’m looking at the middle of next year. Plenty of time for you to learn what you need to know.”

The middle of next year? Ming did some rapid calculation. If everything went according to schedule, she’d be giving birth about the time when Terry would be leaving. Who’d take over while she was out on maternity leave? She’d hoped for twelve glorious weeks with her newborn.

Yet, now that the initial panic was fading, excitement stirred. Her own practice. She’d be crazy to let this opportunity pass her by.

“Ming, are you all right?” Concern had replaced delight. “I thought you’d jump at the chance to run the practice.”

“I’m really thrilled by the opportunity.”

“But?”

She was going to have a baby. Taking over the practice would require a huge commitment of time and energy. But Terry believed in her and she hated to disappoint him. He’d taken her under his wing during high school when she and Wendy had visited the office and shown her that orthodontia was a perfect career for someone who had an obsession with making things straight and orderly.

“No buts.” She loaded her voice with confidence.

“That’s my girl.” He patted her hand. “You have no idea how happy I was when you decided to join me in this practice. There’s no one but you that I’d trust to turn it over to.”

His words warmed and worried her at the same. The amount of responsibility overwhelmed her, but whatever it took, she’d make sure Terry never regretted choosing her.

“I won’t let you down.”

*

Crickets serenaded Jason as he headed up the walk to Ming’s front door. At nine o’clock at night, only a far-off bark disturbed the peaceful tree-lined street in the older Houston suburb. Amongst the midcentury craftsman homes, Ming’s contemporary-styled house stood out. The clean lines and geometric landscaping suited the woman who lived there. Ming kept her surroundings and her life uncluttered.

He couldn’t imagine how she was going to handle the sort of disorder a child would bring into her world, but after his conversation with Evan this afternoon, Jason was no longer deciding whether or not he should help his oldest friend. It was more a matter of how he was going to go about it.

Jason rang her doorbell and Muffin began to bark in warning. The entry light above him snapped on and the door flew open. Jason blinked as Ming appeared in the sudden brightness. The scent of her filled his nostrils, a sumptuous floral that made him think of making love on an exotic tropical island.

“Jason? What are you doing here?” Ming bent to catch the terrier as she charged past, but missed. “Muffin, get back here.”

“I’ll get her.” Chasing the frisky dog gave him something to concentrate on besides Ming’s slender form clad in a plum silk nightgown and robe, her long black hair cascading over one shoulder. “Did I wake you?” he asked, handing her the squirming Yorkie.

His body tightened as he imagined her warm, pliant form snuggled beside him in bed. His brother had been a complete idiot not to give her the sun, moon and whatever stars she wanted.

“No.” She tilted her head. “Do you want to come in?”

Swept by the new and unsettling yearning to take her in his arms and claim her lush mouth, Jason shook his head. “I’ve been thinking about what we talked about earlier today.”

“If you’ve come here to talk me out of having a baby, you can save your breath.” She was his best friend. Back in high school they’d agreed that what had happened after prom had been a huge mistake. They’d both been upset with their dates and turned to each other in a moment of weakness. Neither one wanted to risk their friendship by exploring the chemistry between them.

But in the back of Jason’s mind, lying in wait all these years, was curiosity. What would it be like between them? It’s why he’d decided to help her make a baby. Today she’d offered him the solution to satisfy his need for her and not complicate their friendship with romantic misunderstandings. He’d be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity.

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