A Tricky Proposition(9)

By: Cat Schield



“I’ve been charting my cycle for the last six months,” she said, uncaring if he’d be disinterested in her feminine activities. “The next time I ovulate is in ten days. Can you get away then?”

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

Had he hoped his kiss would change her mind? “I really want this baby. If sleeping with you is the only way that’s going to happen, I’m ready to make the sacrifice.”

He grinned. “Make the arrangements.”





Four

Ming had chosen Mendocino, California, for her long weekend with Jason because the only person who knew it was her favorite getaway spot was Terry’s daughter, Wendy, her closest girlfriend from high school. Wendy had moved to California with her husband seven years earlier and had introduced Ming to the town, knowing she would fall in love with the little slice of New England plopped onto a rugged California coast. The area featured some of the most spectacular scenery Ming had ever seen, and every year thereafter she returned for a relaxing long weekend.

That all had ended two years ago. She’d arrived early in September for a few days of spa treatments and soul-searching. Surrounded by the steady pulse of shore life, she lingered over coffee, browsed art galleries and wine shops, and took a long look at her relationship with Evan. They’d been going out for a little over a year and he’d asked her to decide between becoming a fully committed couple or parting ways.

That long weekend in Mendocino she’d decided to stop feeling torn between the Sterling brothers. She loved Evan one way. She loved Jason another. He’d been nothing but supportive of her dating Evan and more preoccupied than ever with his career and racing hobby. Ming doubted Jason had even noticed that Evan took up most of her time and attention. Or maybe she just wished it had bothered him. That he’d tell his brother to back off and claim Ming as his own.

But he hadn’t, and it had nagged at her how easily Jason had let her go. She’d not viewed a single one of his girlfriends as casually. Each new love interest had meant Jason had taken his friendship with Ming even more for granted.

In hindsight, she understood how she’d fallen for Evan. He’d showered her with all the attention she could ever want.

Despite how things worked out between them, she’d never regretted dating Evan or agreeing to be his wife. So what if their relationship lacked the all-consuming passion of a romance novel. They’d respected each other, communicated logically and without drama. They’d enjoyed the same activities and possessed similar temperaments. All in all, Evan made complete sense for her as a life partner. But had everything been as perfect as it seemed?

A hundred times in the past six months she’d questioned whether she’d have gone through with the wedding if Evan hadn’t changed his mind about having kids and ended their engagement.

They’d dated for two years, been engaged for one.

Plenty of time to shake off doubts about the future.

Plenty of time to decide if what she felt for Evan was enduring love or if she’d talked herself into settling for good enough because he fit seamlessly into her picture of the perfect life.

They were ideally suited in temperament and ideology. He never challenged her opinions or bullied her into defending her beliefs. She always knew where she stood with him. He’d made her feel safe.

A stark contrast to the wildly shifting emotions Jason aroused in her.

The long drive up from San Francisco gave Ming too much time to think. To grow even more anxious about the weekend with Jason. Already plagued by concern that letting him help her conceive a baby would complicate their relationship, now she had to worry that making love with him might just whip up a frenzy of emotions that would lead her to disappointment.

Knowing full well she was stalling, Ming stopped in Mendocino and did some window-shopping before she headed to the inn where she and Jason would be staying. To avoid anyone getting suspicious about the two of them doing something as unusual as heading to California for the weekend, they’d travelled separately. Ming had flown to San Francisco a few days ago to spend some time with Wendy. Jason had headed out on Friday morning. As much as Ming enjoyed visiting with her friend, she’d been preoccupied with doubts and worries that she couldn’t share.

Although Wendy was excited about Ming’s decision to have a baby, she wouldn’t have approved of Ming’s choice of Jason as the father. So Ming kept that part of her plans to herself. Wendy had been there for all Ming’s angst in the aftermath of the senior prom kiss and believed she had wasted too much energy on a man who was never going to let himself fall in love and get married.

Add to this her sister’s disapproval, and the fact that the one person she’d always been able to talk to when something was eating at her was the source of her troubles, and Ming was drowning in uncertainty.

The sun was inching its way toward the horizon when Ming decided she’d dawdled long enough. She paid the gallery owner for the painting of the coast she’d fallen in love with and made arrangements to have it shipped back to her house. Her feet felt encased in lead as she headed down the steps toward her rental car.

She drove below the speed limit on the way to the inn. Gulls wheeled and dove in the steady winds off the Pacific as the car rolled down the driveway, gravel crunching beneath the tires. Silver Mist Inn was composed of a large central lodge and a collection of small cottages that clung to the edge of the cliffs. The spectacular views were well matched by the incredible cuisine and the fabulous hospitality of the husband-and-wife team who owned the inn and spa.

Rosemary was behind the check-in desk when Ming entered the lodge. “Hello, Ming,” the fifty-something woman exclaimed. “How wonderful to see you.”

Ming smiled. Already the relaxing, familiar feel of the place was sinking into her bones. “It’s great to see you, too, Rosemary. How have you been?”

Her gaze drifted to the right of reception. The lodge’s main room held a handful of people sipping coffee, reading or talking while they enjoyed the expansive views of the ocean. Off to the left, a door led to a broad deck that housed lounge chairs where waitresses were busy bringing drinks from the bar.

“Busy as always.” Rosemary pushed a key toward Ming. “Your friend checked in three hours ago. You’re staying in Blackberry Cottage.”

The change of plans revived Ming’s earlier uneasiness. “I booked my regular room in the lodge.”

Rosemary nodded. “After your friend saw all we had to offer, he wanted to upgrade your accommodations. It’s a little bigger, way more private and the views are the best we have.”

“Thank you.” Ming forced her lips into a smile she wasn’t feeling.

Why had Jason disrupted her arrangements? Whenever she vacationed here, she always stayed in the same room, a comfortable suite with a large balcony that overlooked the ocean. This weekend in particular she’d wanted to be in familiar surroundings.

Ming parked her car beside the one Jason had rented and retrieved her overnight bag from the trunk. Packing had taken her three hours. She’d debated every item that had gone into the carry-on luggage.

What sort of clothes would set the correct tone for the weekend? She’d started with too much outerwear. But the purpose of the trip wasn’t to wander the trails by the cliffs but to explore Jason’s glorious, naked body.

So, she’d packed the sexy lingerie she’d received as a bridal shower gift but never gotten the chance to wear. As she’d folded the silky bits of lace and satin, she realized the provocative underwear sent a message that Ming hoped to drive Jason wild with passion, and that struck her as very nonfriendlike.

In the end, she’d filled the suitcase with leggings and sweaters to combat the cool ocean breezes and everyday lingerie because she was making too big a deal out of what was to come.

Ming entered the cottage and set her suitcase by the front door. Her senses purred as she gazed around the large living room decorated in soothing blues and golds. Beyond the cozy furnishings was a wall of windows that revealed a deck gilded by the setting sun and beyond, the indigo ocean.

To her right something mouthwatering was cooking in the small, well-appointed kitchen. An open door beside the refrigerator led outside. Nearing the kitchen, she spied Jason enjoying the ocean breezes from one of the comfortable chairs that flanked a love seat on the deck.

For an undisturbed moment she observed him. He was as relaxed as she’d seen him in months, expression calm, shoulders loose, hands at ease on the chair’s arms. A sharp stab of anticipation made her stomach clench. Shocked by the excitement that flooded her, Ming closed her eyes and tried to even out her breathing. In a few short hours, maybe less, they would make love for the first time. Her skin prickled, flushed. Heat throbbed through her, forging a path that ended between her thighs.

Panic followed. She wasn’t ready for this. For him.

Telling her frantic pulse to calm down, Ming stepped onto the deck. “Hi.”

Jason’s gaze swung her way. A smile bloomed. “Hi yourself.” He stood and stepped toward her. “You’re later than I expected.”

His deep voice and the intense light in his eyes made her long to press herself into his arms and pretend they were a real couple and that this was a magical getaway. She dug her nails into her palms.

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