The Marriage Contract(8)

By: Kat Cantrell

What else did she see when she looked at him? That same recognition he’d felt, as if they’d met in a former life and their connection had been so strong it transcended flesh and bone?

Or would that sound as crazy to her as it did in his head?

“I wasn’t aware I was so transparent,” he said gruffly, a little shocked that he didn’t totally hate it. “Did you want something?”

Her dark eyes were so expressive he could practically read her like a book. He rarely bothered to study people anymore. Once, that had been the only way he could connect with others, by surreptitiously observing them until everything was properly cataloged.

All it had ever gotten him was an acute sense of isolation and an understanding that people stayed away from him because they didn’t like how his brain worked.

She shrugged. “I was bored. Larissa is putting Conner to bed and it turns out that having a nanny around means that once I feed him, I’m pretty much done. I haven’t seen you in, like, a week.”

McKenna, apparently, had no such aversion to Desmond. She’d sought him out. So he could entertain her. That was a first.

“I had no idea you’d mark my absence in such a way.”

Lame. He was out of practice talking to people, let alone one who tied his brain in a Gordian knot of puzzling reactions.

But he wanted to untangle that knot. Very badly.

“Are you always so formal?” McKenna came around the long table to his side and peered over his shoulder at the monitor where he had a drawing of the robot hand spinning in 3-D. “Wow. That’s pretty cool.”

“It’s just a... No, I’m not—” He sucked in a breath as her torso grazed his back. His pulse roared into overdrive and he experienced a purely primal reaction to her that had no place between two people who shared a son and nothing else. “Formal.”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, you are. You remind me of my statistics professor.”

“You took a statistics class?” Okay, they shared that, too. But that was it. They had nothing else in common and he had no reason to be imagining her reaction if he kissed her.

“Have to. It’s a requirement for premed.”

“Can you not stand there?”

Her scent was bleeding through his senses and it was thoroughly disrupting his brain waves. Of course the real problem was that he liked her exactly where she was.

“Where? Behind you?” She punched him on the shoulder like they were drinking buddies and she’d just told him a joke. “I can’t be in front of you. There’s a whole lot of electronic equipment in my way.”

“You talk a lot.”

She laughed. “Only because you’re talking back. Isn’t that how it works?”

For the second time she’d rendered him speechless. Yeah. He was talking back. The two conversations he’d had with her to date, the one at the hospital and this one, marked the longest he’d had with anyone in a while. Probably since Lacey.

He needed someone to draw him out, or he stayed stuck in his head, designing, building, imagining, dreaming. It was a lot safer for everyone that way, so of course that was his default.

McKenna seemed unacquainted with the term boundaries. And he didn’t hate that.

He should. He should be escorting her out of his workshop and back to the main part of the house. There was an indoor pool that stayed precisely the same temperature year-round. A recreational room that he’d had built the moment Mr. Lively called to say McKenna had conceived during the first round of insemination. Desmond had filled the room with a pool table, darts, video game consoles and whatever else the decorator had recommended. Surely his child’s mother could find some amusement there.

“Tell me what you’re building,” she commanded with a fair enough amount of curiosity that he told her.

“It’s a prototype for a robotic humanoid.”

“A robot?” Clearly intrigued, she leaned over the hand, oblivious to the way her hair fell in a long, dark sheet over her shoulder. It was so beautiful that he almost reached out to touch it.

He didn’t. That would invite intimacies he absolutely wanted with a bone-deep desire but hadn’t fully yet analyzed. Until he understood this visceral need, he couldn’t act on it. Too dangerous. It gave her too much power.

“No.” He cleared his throat and scrubbed at his beard, which he still hadn’t trimmed. “A robot is anything mechanical that can be programmed. A robotic humanoid resembles a person both in appearance and function but with a mechanical skeleton and artificial intelligence.”

It was a common misconception that he corrected often, especially when he had to give a presentation about his designs to the manufacturers who bought his patents.

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