Bound By Marriage(4)

By: Nalini Singh

“I’d like to keep it small and if we invite some people from Kowhai,” she named the nearest town, “and not others, it’ll cause hard feelings. How about we limit it to the station folk?”

“Nobody else?”

“No,” Jess said, wondering if she was imagining the renewed edge in his tone.

“Do people…?”

“Some have been guessing since they heard you were coming back and going straight to Angel.” He reached to flip a switch and she was transfixed by the pure strength under the golden-brown of his skin. “After the wedding is early enough to confirm the rumors.”

Jess nodded, unable to stop thinking that soon Gabe’s hands would be touching far more intimate things than the controls of a plane. The thought threatened to reawaken her earlier panic but she forced it down. The day she let that panic show was the day she lost any hope of making this marriage work. Gabriel would never respect a weak woman. “That’ll make it easier.”

“Four p.m. tomorrow all right for you?”

Her throat was so dry she had to cough lightly to clear it. “Okay.” There was no reason to wait—they’d made their bargain on a rainy night a year ago.

Now it was time for her to pay up.

Chapter 2

“I’ve put your things in the guest bedroom for tonight.” Gabe braced his hands on the verandah railing on either side of her, the masculine heat of his chest searing her back.

Her stomach twisted though she knew full well he would never force her. Gabe might be ruthless, but if she said no, he’d back off. And all talk of marriage would end. She’d be escorted off the station with no invitation to ever return.

“Only tonight?” she asked, focusing on the distant grandeur of the Alps. Located in the basin beneath those magnificent behemoths, the Mackenzie stunned even in the final grip of winter. But the aching beauty of her homeland couldn’t calm her at this moment. “You can’t mean us to…so soon?”

“We’re going to be married, Jess.”

“I know. But we can’t—”

“I was upfront with you about wanting children.”

It took every ounce of her courage to continue in the face of his intractable will. “I’m just saying we need time to get used to each other that way.”

“What way?” The words were spoken against the sensitive skin of her neck, his breath a hot caress.

Desire flashed through her bloodstream, a shock that threatened to turn her world upside down. “You know what I’m trying to say.”

“I’ve been celibate for a year.” A flat declaration. “If you want more time, find another man.”

“I can’t believe you said that.” She tried to turn but he refused to allow it.

“You’re telling me you’ll call off the wedding if I don’t agree to have sex with you straight away?”

His body was an inescapable trap around hers. “Think about it, Jess. Why are we marrying? You want to keep the Randall land in your family and I’m thirty-five, at a stage in my life where I want children to ensure Angel Station’s future.

“Essentially, we’re marrying to provide heirs for both of us. If you’re not willing to do what it takes to create them, what’s the point? Either we start as we mean to go on or we don’t start at all.”

It was a brutally practical depiction of their bargain, heartbreaking in its truth. And it made her furious. Why couldn’t he have even tried to soften things this one time, when she most needed it? “I’m a virgin, Gabe. So if I make a few mistakes tomorrow, you’ll have to excuse me.”

He went completely, utterly motionless behind her. “What did you say?”

She was at once proud for having caught him off-guard, and more than a touch nervous about her admission. “You heard me.”

“Are you telling me Damon never tried anything?”

If he’d had been any other man, she’d have thought the question a deliberate attempt to rub salt into still-open wounds. But sly maliciousness wasn’t Gabe’s style—he attacked head on. “No.”

“And you didn’t find another lover?” He answered his own query before she could say anything. “Of course not. You were waiting for Damon to fall in love with you.”

His cruel guess cut far too close to the mark. “We both know that didn’t happen, so I’m rather less experienced than you might be used to.” The understatement of the century. Gabe’s women had always had sensuality oozing from their pores, a silent, dark knowledge in their eyes.