Bound By Marriage(3)

By: Nalini Singh

Paying the price he’d demanded—marriage—hadn’t seemed like such a sacrifice then. Especially since she’d believed that the marriage would ask nothing from her in terms of emotional commitment, allowing her to keep body and soul safe.

Protected. It had never crossed her mind that Gabe might not permit her that distance.

Until he’d kissed her.

“My lawyer will bring over the papers tomorrow morning.”

“Fine.” Gabriel’s money itself had never been the thing she was after. It was losing the right to step foot on the very land she’d been entrusted to hold that she couldn’t bear.

Silence filled the cockpit. Dropping her head against the seat, she tried to think past the painful knot in her throat. Damon was separated. A small, selfish part of her, the part that had loved Damon forever, wanted to tell Gabe to call off the wedding. But she’d stopped lying to herself a long time ago. Even if Damon was acting like a single man again, he’d never once seen her as anything other than his best friend.

To counter that logic her mind insisted on remembering Damon’s unexpected phone call, the things he’d said. Swallowing, she fought back with the knowledge that he’d been drinking. He hadn’t meant it. Any of it. She couldn’t afford to think otherwise.

“What’s with the weight loss?” Gabe’s sharp question cut through the air like a knife.

“It just happened.” A combination of grief, shock and the stress of those first few months in a strange city. “I thought you’d be pleased.” Because his women had always been long-limbed, slender beauties. Even now she was short and not quite skinny.

“I’m not marrying you for your body.”

She bit her lower lip. “No.” Despite that devastating kiss, she knew too well that rich, successful and extremely attractive Gabriel Dumont wasn’t marrying her for her body. Nor was he marrying her for her wit or her confirmed knowledge of station life. No, Gabriel was marrying her for one simple, practical reason: unlike every other woman who’d ever crossed his path, she had no romantic illusions about him.

She didn’t want or expect him to love her, not now, not ever. And that made her imminently suitable to marry a man who had no ability to love, and didn’t want to be bothered with a wife who’d disrupt his life with dreams of romance. “I got a dress in L.A. For the wedding,” she said, in an effort to fill the emptiness between them.

Gabriel wasn’t buying Jess’s apparent calm. “Not the least bit hesitant?”

“You gave me a year. I’m ready now.”

I need to find out who I am before I become Mrs. Dumont for the rest of my life…I never learned to stand up for myself and I know I’ll have that with you.

If I don’t, you’ll destroy me without meaning to.

Her desperate plea the night they’d made the decision to marry slammed into his mind. The sheltered only daughter of late-in-life parents, she’d still been floundering three months after the loss of her single remaining parent—her father. Yet she’d had the courage to say to Gabe’s face what many never would—that he was quite capable of destroying a softer, less powerful personality with the unforgiving pragmatism of his own.

The woman beside him sounded nothing like the broken girl of twelve months ago…except for that underlying thread of courage. “Good,” he said, not certain he liked that quiet hint of steel. He’d chosen Jess because he’d known she’d ask less than nothing from him. All she cared about was keeping the former Randall Station in her family.

“You,” she said, stopped, then restarted. “You didn’t find another woman?”

“I want you to be my wife, Jess. I want you to live on Angel Station, take my name and bear my children.” He made sure she heard the determination in his voice—he’d made his choice and he’d stick with it.

The fact she felt nothing for him didn’t faze him in the least. He’d decided long ago that love would play no part in any marriage of his. “Unlike Damon, I’ve kept it in my pants since we got engaged.”

“Are you going to throw his name into every conversation we have?”

He glanced over at the unexpected rebuke to catch her with her eyes narrowed and her arms folded. It amused him. She might have grown up a little but Jess was still a featherweight in comparison to him. “Who do you want to invite to the wedding?”

She gave a frustrated sigh and thrust a hand through her hair, sending red curls every which way. He found his eyes lingering on the fiery strands. That was one thing about Jess that hadn’t changed—that wild, silky mass of hair so incongruous with her quiet, undemanding personality.