"What?" Morgan said when the pause drew out. Her voice was breathless.
"This is stupid. You won’t understand." What had he been thinking? That he could fly to Victoria, explain all the thoughts swirling around in his own mind, and she’d somehow get on the same page as him?
She took his hand. "I think I will. I can. Give me a chance."
"Everyone thinks I’m a joke, Morgan. I’m not." He broke off again.
"I know you’re not a joke. And I’m probably one of the best listeners you’ll ever come across. I’ve got nowhere to go tonight, and I want to hear what you have to say. Start at the beginning and tell me all of it."
She wasn’t pressing him to put the ring on her finger, and she hadn’t taken it and thrown it out the window, either. Unlike his brothers or father, Morgan was willing to listen to him, like she had last month when they’d gotten to know each other. He couldn’t remember any other woman giving him the kind of attention she did. Usually they wanted the same thing he was after – some beer, some dancing and some sex, not necessarily in that order. Small town girls who were dying to shake off the boredom of small town life, if only for a night.
Morgan was different, so he did as she asked. In the half-light of the hall lamp – the only switch she’d turned on when they entered the apartment – he sat on her floor and told her about his life. About the freewheeling time when he’d been too young for school or work and the whole world seemed alight with beauty and mystery, about his run-ins with his brothers – especially Ned – Holt’s strictness, his mother’s garden, the playground fights.
He told her how he’d cultivated a reputation as a prankster and tough guy, put aside his interest in the natural world, and buckled down to life on the ranch. How he’d soothed his dissatisfaction with liquor and women, and how none of it was enough anymore.
He even told her about Georgette, going to church, and meeting his mother in the garden.
"Something’s got to change," he said. "And I’ve got an opportunity to jump start my future. I’m afraid to tell you about it, though. The only way I can get it is by using you, and you don’t deserve that."
She sat as still as she had throughout his monologue, but Rob hesitated. He couldn’t believe he was saying this out loud. Surely Morgan would hate him afterwards. "My Dad’s offered 200 acres to the first of us who brings home a wife. I could do a lot with that land. We could do a lot with it, you and me."
She sat back and Rob knew she was thinking all the thoughts he’d wanted her to avoid. That he was using her to get the land. That he didn’t really care about her.
That maybe this was one of his practical jokes.
"It isn’t a joke," he said softly. "I want a chance to change. To be the man I know I can be. I wish I could say that I love you, that I want to spend every waking moment of my life with you, and ask you to marry me for real. I think I will be able to say that to you someday soon. I think…really soon." He swallowed hard at the very thought. "But we’ve known each other for so short a time, I can’t say it yet. I’m sorry." He got to his knees again, ready to stand up and head right back out the door. He never should have said anything to Morgan. Now he’d probably blown his chance with the only woman he thought he could fall in love with someday.
"I understand," Morgan said calmly, freezing him in place. "I appreciate how honest you’ve been. Sit down again for a minute. Can I tell you what I want?"
He sat down, wrapped his arms around his knees and waited, his heart pounding at what she might say. This was by far the strangest conversation he’d ever had. The most liberating, too. "Definitely."
"I want three things and I’ll do just about anything to get them." She looked him straight in the eye, though he had a feeling it was hard for her to do so. "First, I want a winery – which means I need a vineyard." She held up one finger. "Second, I have some money saved up, but even if I had some land, I’d still need about twenty-thousand dollars more to buy rootstock and get it started." Another finger. "And third…"
"Third…?" Rob held his breath.
"I want a baby."
Heat blossomed inside him the moment his brain processed the concept of making a baby with Morgan. Images of her in his bed, writhing beneath him, gazing at him as he joined with her, clouded his head until he couldn’t think straight. Morgan wasn’t saying no to his proposal. In fact, maybe she was saying… "A baby with me?"
After a moment she nodded, but when he reached for her, she intercepted him, taking his hands in hers. "Wait. I think…I think there’s more to say."
"Okay." He took a breath, hoping to make his heart stop pounding. The idea of having a child with Morgan revved him up more than he could understand. Suddenly he was seeing her in a whole new light.
He’d thought of his proposal as kind of a business transaction. A short-term deal that could get them both what they wanted. He’d figured in time they might very well divorce, but there was enough land for the two of them, and by then he’d have what he wanted – independence. A business of his own.
But what if Morgan became his wife for real? Forever?
He itched to unbutton the blouse she wore – hell, to tear it off of her – and get started making that baby right now. He didn’t think they’d even make it to the bedroom. If he had his way, she’d conceive right here on the living room floor.
"Rob. Rob?" Morgan was talking to him and he hadn’t heard a word she’d said.
"What?" He tried to focus on her lips. No, better focus on her eyes, instead. He couldn’t kiss her eyes.
Unless they were closed and she was half-naked, lying beneath him…
Damn it. He shook the thoughts from his head and tried to pay attention.
"If I’m hearing you right, you thought we could marry, get the land and split it between us. Then get divorced after a while. That’s not what I want." She held his gaze. "I want to be loved. I want the kind of love that lasts a lifetime. I want laughter and affection and honor and understanding. In fact, I want more than to be loved – I want to be cherished. And I know it’s too soon," she rushed on when he opened his mouth to speak. "Like you said, you don’t know me that well, and I don’t know you, but it seems to me that love is possible between us, and if love is, maybe something more is, as well."
Rob nodded vigorously. Something was definitely possible between them.
"And if it’s possible, maybe we can go ahead and choose it."