The Marriage Contract(10)

By: Kat Cantrell

Her days fell into a rhythm that didn’t suck. Mrs. Elliot fed her and provided companionable but neutral conversation when McKenna prompted her. Clothes magically appeared cleaned and pressed in McKenna’s closet. Twice a week, her beautifully decorated bedroom and the adjoining bathroom were unobtrusively cleaned. All in all, she was drowning in luxury. And she wouldn’t apologize for enjoying it.

To shed the baby weight that had settled around her hips and stomach, she’d started swimming in the pool a couple of hours a day. Before she’d gotten pregnant, she’d jogged. But there were no trails through the heavy forest of hemlocks and maples that surrounded this gothic mansion perched at the edge of the Columbia River. Even if she found a place to run, her enormous breasts hurt when she did something overly taxing, like breathing and thinking. She could only imagine how painful it would be to jog three miles.

The pool was amazing, huge and landscaped with all sorts of indoor plants that made her feel like she was at a tropical oasis on another continent instead of in northwest Oregon where she’d spent the whole of her life. A glass ceiling let in light but there were no windows to break the illusion. She could swim uninterrupted for as long as she liked. It was heavenly.

Until she emerged from the water one day and wiped her face to see Desmond sitting on one of the lounge chairs, quietly watching her. She hadn’t seen him since the workshop incident a week ago that might have been an almost kiss.

“Hey,” she called, mystified why her pulse leaped into overdrive the second her senses registered his presence. “Been here long?”

“Long enough,” he said cryptically, his smooth voice echoing in the cavernous pool area. “Am I disturbing you?”

He’d sought her out, clearly, since he wasn’t dressed for swimming and wore an expectant expression.

So she lied. “Of course not.”

In reality he did disturb her. A lot. His eyes matched his name, piercing her to the bone when he looked at her, and she didn’t like how shivery and goose-pimply he turned her mostly bare skin. There was something about him she couldn’t put her finger on, but the man had more shadows than a graveyard. She could see them flitting around in his expression, in his demeanor, as if they weighed him down.

Until he smiled. And thank God he didn’t do that more often, because he went from sexy in an abstract way to holy-crap hot.

So she’d do everything in her power to not make him smile for however long he planned to grace her with his presence. Hopefully that would only be a few minutes. If she’d known he was going to make an appearance, she’d have brought something to cover her wet swimsuit, like a full suit of armor made of inch-thick chain mail.

The way he was looking at her made her feel exposed.

She settled for a towel, draping it around her torso like a makeshift toga, which at least covered her pointy nipples, and sat on the next lounge chair, facing him.

Desmond was wearing a white button-down shirt today, with the sleeves rolled to his forearms and, despite teasing him the other day about his fashion sense, he had such a strange, magnetic aura that she scarcely noticed anything extraneous like clothes. All she saw was him.

“Are you settling in okay?” he asked.

She had the sense the question wasn’t small talk. “Sure. What’s not to like?”

His eyebrows quirked. “The fact that you’re here in the first place.”

“You’re making it worth my while, remember?”

That shouldn’t have come out so sarcastically. After all, she’d been the one to shake her head at monetary compensation, which he’d likely have readily ponied up.

But he was making her twitchy with his shadowy gaze. After visiting his workshop, she’d looked up the things he’d invented and his mind was definitely not like other people’s. Innovation after innovation in the areas of robotics and machinery had spilled onto her screen along with published papers full of his endless theoretical ideas.

She was not a stupid person by any stretch, having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a 3.5 grade point average, but Desmond Pierce existed on another plane. And that made him thoroughly out of reach to mere mortals like her.

But he was still oh, so intriguing. And they were married. Funny how that had become front and center in her mind all at once.

He nodded. “I’m sorry my request has delayed your own plans.”

Clearly he didn’t get offended by her jokes that weren’t funny. That was a good thing.

“I have my whole life to be a doctor. Conner will only be a newborn for this small stretch of time.”

It was a huge concession, and she had her own reasons for being there, none of which she planned to share with Conner’s father. But her pathetic gratefulness for this time with her son wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard she tried to think of breast-feeding as a task instead of the bonding experience it was proving to be.

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