Authors: Laurie Paige
The man nodded. Janis pressed a hand to her chest. The two married couples looked on without a word.
“Good. Susan has had enough tonight. She's not supposed to be in crowds at all for another two months,” he said sternly, then spoiled it by smiling indulgently.
Susan bid them all good-night and silently followed Michael from the room. When the valet brought the car around and they were off, her new heart skipped an alarming number of beats. She went weak and dizzy, but there was no pain, no pain at all. Only the most intense excitement she'd ever known.
“Tonight,” she said.
At Michael's home on Mission Ridge, Susan took his hand and let him help her out of the sports car and into the house. She expected an offer of champagne or wine or at least his favorite tippleâraspberry iced tea.
Instead she was enfolded in strong arms the moment they entered the dim foyer. “Mmm-hmm,” she said, clutching his strong shoulders and giving herself to the kiss.
Rockets blazed inside her. They roared in her ears so that all she could hear over the sound was the fast beating of her heart. His lips roamed hers in tender forays, then became more demanding. She opened to his bidding and played a lover's eternal game of touch and retreat.
“I want you,” she told him, pushing the tux jacket off and down his arms. “Now. Oh, Michael,
He lifted his head and stared into her eyes, the look in his causing her knees to go weak.
“Not yet,” he said in a ragged voice.
Releasing his hold, he turned them toward the living room and flicked on soft lamplight before seating her on the sofa. She gazed at him, questions in her eyes and uncertainty in her soul, while he sat on the edge of the chair, his knees an inch from hers. He leaned forward, an intensity in him she'd seen just before her surgery.
“We need to talk,” he continued.
“Why?” she asked softly, teasing him with a deliberate, flirty under-the-lashes look.
He sucked in a deep breath. “Vixen. Don't distract me. Tell me what you want.”
She almost laughed. “You.”
But Michael was serious, dead serious. He knew
what he wanted from her and wouldn't settle for less. “You got me, lady, lock, stock, and barrel.”
Her eyes glowed, drowning him in their brilliance and the simmering sexuality in her glance. He forced himself to think instead of only feel.
“It has to be forever,” he added, making his position clear. He'd come to that realization weeks ago. Observing the wariness enter her eyes now, he was sure she hadn't thought that far ahead.
“Forever is a long time,” she said, not meeting his eyes. “We might not have that long.”
“True, but whatever time there is, I want it.”
She smiled again. “Me, too. Can we start now?”
He shook his head in frustration. He was sure they weren't on the same wavelength. “I'm talking about marriage, Susan,” he said bluntly, putting his heart on the line. “I want that kind of forever.”
Susan's mood changed at once. She rose and paced to the broad expanse of windows. She could see the harvest moon shining on the lake, a huge golden pumpkin that could turn into a coach with the wave of a magic wand.
Only it wouldn't. Not for her.
“Don't spoil things,” she pleaded.
He came to her and laid his wonderful hands on her shoulders, his chest against her back, creating a blanket of warmth around her. She refrained from leaning into him.
“How would marriage do that? I'm in love with
you. That's a forever kind of thing as far as I'm concerned.”
Tears pressed in harsh waves against her control. She sought and found the anger. Spinning away from him, she said in a low, fierce tone, “There's no such thing as forever for us. I have tonight. That's all I can guarantee.”
He studied her through narrowed eyes, his handsome face set in hard lines. She fought the hateful tears.
“I'll take tonight,” he said.
She crossed her arms over her chest, fighting the sweet caress of his voice, so deep and midnight dark and enticing.
“But I'm a selfish bastard. I want all your nights and your days. I'm talking about commitment. Can you give me that?”
Despair battled the anger. “No.”
Michael started to reach for her, to shake some sense into her pretty head, but he forced his hands to his sides. It was hard, but a man had to know when he was wrong.
“So it was gratitude,” he murmured, more to himself than her. “The doctor-patient syndrome.”
She stared out the window, refusing to meet his gaze. Her hands clenched and unclenched at her sides. “You know it was more.”
He laughed sardonically. “Yeah, sex. That part was great, but frankly, the rest of our relationship
has been hell. Come on, I'll take you home. You look pale.”
“Michael,” Susan whispered, and heard the agony in her voice.
He stiffened and waited.
“Please, don't send me away.”
“There's only so much I can take, Susan. I think I've reached the end of my rope tonight.”
She swallowed the knot of misery. “I know the chances of survival. This next year is critical. It could be all I'll have. A year, a few months, maybe weeks, or only days. Who can say? I feel good now, but that could change at any time.”
“Don't you think I know that? I'm asked to calculate the mortality of my patients all the time. I want forever, however long that may be.”
She shook her head. “It would hurt too muchâ¦to want so much and perhaps have so little.”
“I have a friend from medical school,” he told her. “He had a kidney transplant when he was fifteen. He's alive and has a busy family practice. He has a wife and kid. He takes two pills a day. That's it.”
She wanted to marry him, she wanted to dance again, she wanted to coach other young dancers and see them blossom, she wanted two children. Dear God, she wanted to believe it was all possible. But she didn't.
Her watch vibrated against her wrist. “Time for the pills,” she said dully, and reached for her purse.
Michael brought her a glass of water. After she swallowed the dozen pills that kept her heart and body from rejecting each other, he simply watched her for a moment, then he laughed with a bitterness that shook her soul.
“I thought you were brave,” he said. “I thought you could face the future, that you would grab it and make it your own. I thought you would share it with me.”
“I will, but notâ I don't think it's necessary to marry. We can date and do things together.”
“Not good enough. I want you with me every day. I want to fall asleep with you in my arms, wake with you in my bed. I want to think about children and whether we should try for one or adopt one a couple of years from now.”
“You are so stubborn,” she accused, seeing only darkness ahead if he wouldn't agree to her terms.
“Yeah, I am. Just like someone else I know. This is a hell of a note, isn't it? You want limited involvement and no commitment. I want it all.” He sighed. “Let's go.”
Panic seized her. “No! Give me time to think.” She pressed fingertips to her temples. “You're a doctor. You know everything.”
He snorted at this.
“Everything about me,” she clarified. “And you still want marriage?
A hum started inside her, spreading outward like the vibrating notes of the violins denoting the change of mood at a tense moment in a ballet.
“I could die,” she said.
“I don't want to be a burden. I'd hate that.”
“Can't you just sweep me off my feet and override all my worries and objections?” she cried.
She huffed out a breath and took a step forward. Then another one. “You could help, you know,” she told him.
He raised his eyebrows in that lofty, arrogant way she loved. Her heart pounded fiercely.
Another step. There was only one left between them. She stopped and looked into his eyes. She saw laughter and warmth and delight. She saw tenderness and caring and nurturing. She saw love.
“I love you,” she said, giving in to it. “Marriage it is, but if you're ever sorry, don't say I didn't tell you so.”
He threw back his head and laughed. Then he swept her into his arms. Her evening slippers fell off. He kicked them out of the way as he turned toward the hall.
She snuggled her head on his shoulder and kissed his neck and jaw and cheek as far as she could reach. He strode the length of the house to the master bedroom.
Stopping in the middle of the floor, where moonlight flooded the carpet in a silver square of enchantment, she felt as if they had walked into a new world, a place made for them and their love.
“As long as we're here,” she murmured, “in this magic place of love, we'll be safe.”
“You'll always be safe with me,” he promised huskily. “We're going to be so content, each moment will seem like a special forever, created just for us.”
She believed him.
Special thanks and acknowledgment are given to Laurie Paige for her contribution to the LONE STAR COUNTRY CLUB series.
Copyright Â© 2002 by Harlequin Books S.A.
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