A Tricky Proposition(7)By: Cat Schield
“Yeah, well, it’s a pretty big something.”
Never in his life had he let a female take his mind off the business at hand. Especially when he was so determined to win this year’s overall points trophy and show Max what he was missing by falling in love and getting engaged.
“Let me guess, you think someone’s embezzling from Sterling Bridge.”
“Hardly.” As CFO of the company his grandfather began in the mid-fifties, Jason had an eagle eye for any discrepancies in the financials. “Let’s just say I’ve put in an offer and I’m waiting to hear if it’s been accepted.”
“Let me guess, that ’68 Shelby you were lusting after last month?”
“I’m not talking about it,” Jason retorted. Let Max think he was preoccupied with a car. He’d promised Ming that he’d keep quiet about fathering her child. Granted, she hadn’t agreed to let him father the child the way he wanted to, but he sensed she’d come around. It was only a matter of when.
“If it’s the Shelby then it’s already too late. I bought it two days ago.” Max grinned at Jason’s disgruntled frown. “I had a space in my garage that needed to be filled.”
“And whose fault is that?” Jason spoke with more hostility than he meant to.
A couple of months ago Jason had shared with Max his theory that the Lansing Employment Agency was not in the business of placing personal assistants with executives, but in matchmaking. Max thought that was crazy. So he wagered his rare ’69 ’Cuda that he wouldn’t marry the temporary assistant the employment agency sent him. But when the owner of the placement company turned out to be the long-lost love of Max’s life, Jason gained a car but lost his best buddy.
“Why are you still so angry about winning the bet?” Despite his complaint, Max wore a good-natured grin. Everything about Max was good-natured these days. “You got the car I spent five years convincing a guy to sell me. I love that car.”
He loved his beautiful fiancée more.
“I’m not angry,” Jason grumbled. He missed his cynical-about-love friend. The guy who understood and agreed that love and marriage were to be avoided because falling head over heels for a woman was dangerous and risky.
“Rachel thinks you feel abandoned. Like because she and I are together, you’ve lost your best friend.”
Jason shot Max a skeptical look. “Ming’s my best friend. You’re just some guy I used to hang out with before you got all stupid about a girl.”
Max acted as if he hadn’t heard Jason’s dig. “I think she’s right.”
“Of course you do,” Jason grumbled, pulling his ball cap off and swiping at the sweat on his forehead. “You’ve become one of those guys who keeps his woman happy by agreeing with everything she says.”
Max smirked. “That’s not how I keep Rachel happy.”
For a second Jason felt a stab of envy so acute he almost winced. Silent curses filled his head as he shoved the sensation away. He had no reason to resent his friend’s happiness. Max was going to spend the rest of his life devoted to a woman who might someday leave him and take his happiness with her.
“What happened to you?”
Max looked surprised by the question. “I fell in love.”
“I know that.” But how had he let that happen? They’d both sworn they were never going to let any woman in. After the way Max’s dad cheated on his wife, Max swore he’d never trust anyone enough to fall in love. “I don’t get why.”
“I’d rather be with Rachel than without her.”
How similar was that to what had gone through his father’s mind after he’d lost his wife? His parents were best friends. Soul mates. Every cliché in the book. She was everything to him. Jason paused for breath. It had almost killed his dad to lose her.
“What if she leaves you?”
“What if something bad happens to her?”
“This is about what happened to your mom, isn’t it?” Max gave his friend a sympathetic smile. “Being in love doesn’t guarantee you’ll get hurt.”
“Maybe not.” Jason found no glimmers of light in the shadows around his heart. “But staying single guarantees that I won’t.”
A week went by before Ming responded to Jason’s offer to get her pregnant. She’d spent the seven days wondering what had prompted him to suggest they have sex—she just couldn’t think of it as making love—and analyzing her emotional response.
Jason wasn’t interested in complicating their friendship with romance any more than she was. He was the one person in her life who never expected anything from her, and she returned the favor. And yet, they were always there to help and support each other. Why risk that on the chance that the chemistry between them was out-of-this-world explosive?
Of course, it had dawned on her a couple of days ago that he’d probably decided helping her get pregnant offered him a free pass. He could get her into bed no strings attached. No worries that expectations about where things might go in the future would churn up emotions.
It would be an interlude. A couple of passionate encounters that would satisfy both their curiosities. In the end, she would be pregnant. He would go off in search of new hearts to break, and their friendship would continue on as always.
The absolute simplicity of the plan warned Ming that she was missing something.
Jason was in his garage when Ming parked her car in his driveway and killed the engine. She hadn’t completely decided to accept his terms, but she was leaning that way. It made her more sensitive to how attractive Jason looked in faded jeans and a snug black T-shirt with a Ford Mustang logo. Wholly masculine, supremely confident. Her stomach flipped in full-out feminine appreciation as he came to meet her.
“Hey, what’s up?”
Light-headed from the impact of his sexy grin, she indicated the beer in his hand. “Got one of those for me?”
He headed for the small, well-stocked fridge at the back of the garage, and she followed. When he bent down to pull out a bottle, her gaze locked on his perfect butt. Hammered by the urge to slide her hands over those taut curves, she knew she was going to do this. Correction. She wanted to do this.
“Thanks,” she murmured, applying the cold bottle to one overheated cheek.
Jason watched her through narrowed eyes. “I thought you didn’t drink beer anymore.”
“Do you have any wine?” she countered, sipping the beer and trying not to grimace.
“Then I’m drinking beer.” She prowled past racing trophies and photos of Jason and Max in one-piece driving suits. “How’d your weekend go?”
“Come upstairs and see.”
Jason led the way into the house and together they ascended the staircase to Jason’s second floor. He’d bought the home for investment purposes and had had it professionally decorated. The traditional furnishings weren’t her taste, but they suited the home’s colonial styling.
He’d taken one of the four bedrooms as his man cave. A wall-to-wall tribute to his great passion for amateur car racing. On one wall, a worn leather couch, left over from his college days, sat facing a sixty-inch flat-screen TV. If Jason wasn’t racing his Mustang or in the garage restoring a car, he was here, watching NASCAR events or recaps of his previous races.
He hit the play button on the remote and showed Ming the clip of the race’s conclusion.
The results surprised her. “You didn’t win?” He’d been having his best season ever. “What happened?”
His large frame slammed into the old couch as he sat down in a disgruntled huff. A man as competitive as Jason had a hard time coming in second. “Had a lot on my mind.”
The way his gaze bore into her, Ming realized he blamed her for his loss. She joined him on the couch and jabbed her finger into his ribs. “I’m not going to apologize for taking a week to give your terms some thought.”
“I would’ve been able to concentrate if I’d known your answer.”
“I find that hard to believe,” she said, keeping her tone light. Mouth Sahara dry, she drank more beer.
He dropped his arm over the back of the couch. His fingertips grazed her bare shoulder. “You don’t think the thought of us making love has preoccupied me this last week?”
“Then you agree that we run the risk of changing things between us.”
“It doesn’t have to.” Jason’s fingers continued to dwell on her skin, but now he was trailing lines of fire along her collarbone. “Besides, that’s not what preoccupied me.”
This told Ming all she needed to know about why he’d suggested they skip the fertility clinic. For Jason this was all about the sex. Fine. It could be all about the sex for her, too.
“Okay. Let’s do it.” She spoke the words before she could second-guess herself. She stared at the television screen. It would be easier to say this next part without meeting his penetrating gaze. “But I have a few conditions of my own.”
He leaned close enough for her to feel his breath on her neck. “You want me to romance you?”
As goose bumps appeared on her arms, she made herself laugh. “Hardly. There is a window of three days during which we can try. If I don’t get pregnant your way, then you agree to do it my way.” Stipulating her terms put her back on solid ground with him. “I’m not planning on dragging this out indefinitely.”