"I’m not sure I follow you," he said when it seemed like she was waiting for an answer.
"What if we choose to love each other?" she tried again, leaning forward so he got the barest glimpse down the neckline of her blouse. "What if you…decided to cherish me?" Her words drifted down to a whisper, but Rob heard every one. "I mean, could you really marry me if you didn’t intend to follow through? Could you stand up in front of a minister and everyone and…lie?"
Rob sat back as the cold wash of reality broke over him. Lie in front of Joe Halpern? His family? His friends?
No. He couldn’t. He might joke and cheat and fool around. He might knock some idiot flat when the occasion required it. But he would not lie to God.
That’s where he drew the line.
How on earth had he made it through picking out a ring, booking a flight and traveling all the way to Morgan’s home without ever facing that stumbling block? He must have been crazy to think this ever could have worked.
It was hopeless.
"Say that again – the part about choosing?"
She slid off the couch and sat on the floor beside him. In the dim light he felt like a kid again, up way past his bedtime. It was dark and quiet in the apartment, aside from the whoosh of cars passing by outside now and then.
"What if we choose to love each other? What if we decided we would? What if we said that’s it – we’re going to be partners for the rest of our lives, and went ahead and made a marriage out of it?" She watched him, waiting for his reaction.
In a strange way it made sense. He’d never met another woman who interested him as much as Morgan. They had chemistry in spades, and she was as ambitious as he was – more, even. Could you decide to love someone?
"Think about all those people in arranged marriages," she said, touching his knee. His skin burned and he fought the urge to capture that small hand and bring it to his lips. "We’ll arrange our own marriage. We’ll force ourselves to be husband and wife."
The way he felt right now, no one would have to force him to do anything. "An arranged marriage," he repeated, watching the way her lips formed her words. In another minute he’d need to kiss her.
And then he’d need to do a hell of a lot more than that.
"Do you think it could work?" she asked, trying to meet his gaze again.
He leaned in for a kiss and an electric shock jolted through his body when their mouths joined. Choose to love this woman? Choose to spend his life with her?
When he broke off the kiss, he leaned back, but kept his hand on her arm. "I need a few things, too."
He’d swear she was as turned on as he was, and he wanted nothing more to ditch all the talking and go straight to bed. Still, these were serious matters and they deserved to be discussed.
"I want to be respected," he said, wanting to look anywhere other than at her face, but forcing himself not to turn away. He wondered if Morgan had felt like this when she stated her needs – like she was naked in public. "I’m not talking about me telling you what to do, and I’m not saying I won’t ask for your input on major decision. But in matters of my business, I need to call my own shots. I need you to trust me that I’ll do my best."
Morgan laughed, a happy sound. "Of course. I trust that already."
Rob’s heart expanded, and some of the pain he’d felt the last couple of days slid away. "I want to try my hand at a thing or two before I decide what to do with my share of the land. I want support and an open mind."
"Most of all," he hesitated, not sure how to put this desire into words. "I want…"
Morgan waited. She looked eager to hear what he might say. Eager to agree to it. He took a breath and blurted it out.
"I want to be wanted."
A smile curved Morgan’s lips.
"I want you," she said. "I don’t imagine that will change."
"If you’ll want me, I’ll cherish you. I’ll be the best husband I can be. The best father I can be. I swear I’ll build us a life that shows you – shows you and our kids – how much you mean to me." He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers.
"I promise I’ll respect you. Lust after you." She searched his face with his gaze. "I’ll stand by you no matter what may come."
Rob found himself blinking. Something huge and hard shifted in his heart. To have an ally in life – an ally who wanted him… "Even if I’m not a rancher?"
"No matter what you choose to be."
He felt as if the ground was sliding beneath his feet. As if all the walls that ever held him in gave way at once, leaving him surrounded by a world of possibilities. Freed from a lifetime of his family’s strictures, Morgan’s words left his future open wide. "That’s the best gift you could ever give me," he said gruffly. "I’ll build you that winery. I’ll get you that money."
"And I’ll help you do whatever you decide to do."
"Let’s have lots of babies together," he said, leaning forward to brush a kiss across her cheek.
She nodded, her eyes shining. "Hold on, just a minute." She got to her feet and moved first to the kitchen, then into her bedroom. Rob waited for her, secure in his soul for the first time in his memory that everything he was doing was exactly right.
Who would have guessed when he got on that plane that his life would change like this? Could it be only twenty-four hours ago that he was back in Montana, stuck, miserable…?
When she came back she held candles that she lit and put on the narrow coffee table.
"You kneel there," she said, pointing to one side. "Put the ring there." He did what she told him, placing it on the glass surface, curious to see what she’d do next.
She took a position on the other side, and set another ring in front of her. It looked old and tarnished, definitely meant for a man.
"My mother gave me a box of jewelry last year, some things she’d inherited but didn’t use. This was one of them. I always liked it." She picked it up and took his hand. In the candle-light, she looked lovely – intent and radiant. "Rob Matheson, I promise right now to bind my life to yours, forever and always, to love you, honor you, respect you, and build a life by your side. I make this pledge now…" She trailed off uncertainly.
Rob picked up the thread. "In the presence of God?" he said softly. He felt like God was here in this room. Nothing he’d ever done had felt this right.
"In the presence of God," Morgan echoed. "Forever and ever, amen." She threaded the ring onto his finger.