Rob picked up the engagement ring Rose Bellingham had helped him choose this afternoon, with many assurances he was following the right path. This darkened, quiet living room was a far cry from the bustling chrome and glass interior of the little shop in the middle of Chance Creek.
"Morgan Tate, I promise right now to bind my life to yours, forever and always, to love you, honor you, cherish you and build a life by your side. I make this pledge in the presence of God. Forever and ever, amen."
He slid the ring onto her finger.
As he stared across the table, the candles guttering between them, Rob was positive he’d spun his life on its axis and it would never be the same again. He pulled her to stand, tugged her around the table, and bent to seal the bargain with a kiss.
Yes, he would choose to love this woman. He would choose to love her right now.
* * * * *
Morgan ran her fingers through her hair and checked her reflection in the mirror, gathering the courage to leave the washroom and return to the bedroom where Rob waited for her. She still felt like she was walking on air. Her own body didn’t seem to belong to her. Instead it hummed and tingled and her heart beat fit to burst right out of her chest.
She had no idea what impulse made her fetch the ring and conduct her own quasi-wedding ceremony in the drab little living room of her apartment.
Of course it hadn’t felt drab with the candles lit and Rob staring across the coffee table from her. It had felt magical. It still did.
And now she was going to make love to the man she’d spend the rest of her life with.
An idea that both thrilled and terrified her.
It had been a long time since she’d been with a man. A really, really long time.
And she wasn’t entirely sure she should be with a man now. Hadn’t she told herself she’d wait until her wedding night before she had sex again? She hesitated, staring at her reflection. Wasn’t being engaged good enough? She’d promised to marry him, and he’d promised it, too.
She wanted to know what making love to Rob would be like. She’d waited long enough. Smiling, she opened the bathroom door, made her way to the bedroom and found Rob under the covers, leaning back against the headboard of her queen-sized bed.
"Thought you’d never get here." He grinned and her heart did a little flip.
"Sorry." She sat down on the end of the bed, and played with the coverlet. She was wearing a plain blue satin short nightie with spaghetti straps. She wished she’d had something sexier, but since she hadn’t been with a man in such a long time, she…didn’t.
"Come on over here. Let me get a better look at you." He took her hand and gently tugged it. She slid onto the bed and made her way closer to him. When he drew her into his arms, she sighed and accepted his kiss eagerly.
Soon he was ready for more, however. And when he slid her down onto her back and moved a hand up to her breast, her heart began to pound again. Was she ready for this – right now?
What if Rob changed his mind about getting married?
What if this was one of his jokes, after all?
She blocked his hand with her own, covering up the movement by lifting it to her mouth and kissing his palm. He moved it away and kissed her again, but just as she relaxed and focused on the taste of him, he slid his hand down to her neckline once more, tugging the thin cloth to the side to expose her breast to view. He pulled back, smiled in appreciation, and bent to take it into his mouth.
Morgan stiffened, and when he grazed her nipple with his tongue, she surged up and pushed him away. She hopped off the bed, gripping the nightie to her.
"What…hey – what’s wrong?" Rob sat up, too, ready to come after her.
Morgan held out a hand to stop him. "I’m sorry. I’m not ready for this. I…can’t."
Rob leaned back. "Are you kidding me?"
"No. I just…I thought…" She shook her head in confusion. Sliding out of bed, she grabbed a robe from a hook on the back of her door, but he scrambled out of the bed and stopped her before she could reach for the handle and escape into the living room.
"Hold on. What’s happening? You can’t walk out on me without an explanation."
"We’re not married yet." She hesitated, trying desperately to keep her gaze above his waist. She should have told him earlier about her vow. He was right – this wasn’t fair, but she hadn’t expected to still feel this way. "I don’t believe in sex before marriage," she blurted, afraid if she didn’t, she’d lose her nerve.
He stopped in his tracks. "Are you saying you’re a virgin?"
Now she had his attention, she thought wryly. "No. I’m not a virgin. I didn’t always have this attitude toward sex, but some years back I had a…scare. And the man involved was the last man I’d pick to raise a child with. I realized I had to stop fooling around, so to speak."
Rob didn’t smile at her little joke. In fact, he looked downright angry. "How long’s it been since you’ve done it?"
She felt her cheeks heat. "About five years."
"Five years?" Now he was shocked. And her neighbors knew the length of her dry spell, too, since he’d practically shouted the words.
"It’s been a while," she acknowledged curtly. She felt like she’d been caught doing something perverse, instead of the opposite. Why should she have to feel bad about abstaining? She held the moral high ground. Didn’t she?
Rob cocked his head, relaxing a little. "Is this about your mother?"
Damn. Nailed it right on the nose. "Yes. It’s about Aria. I grew up hearing how much my birth screwed up everyone’s lives. I won’t do that to a child."
"But you just told me you wanted to get pregnant. You said you wanted a baby," Rob said, moving closer. "How exactly am I supposed to get that done if we don’t have sex?"
"You can get that done on our wedding night." She couldn’t believe him. Was he really trying to use her desire for a child to seduce her?
"Meanwhile, you want us to keep our distance." He began to advance on her again, and she was all too aware of a certain part of his anatomy. Evidently it hadn’t gotten the news that there wouldn’t be any under-the-sheets celebrations tonight.
"We can still fool around," she heard herself say as he pulled her back into his arms. He bent down and scraped a kiss across her jaw. "I think that’s only natural." Her voice faltered as he nipped her earlobe.
"Oh, yeah?" Rob straightened. So did that certain piece of his anatomy she was trying so hard to ignore. "How much fooling around do you think is okay to do?" He pulled her in tighter.
Morgan laughed breathlessly. "As much as it takes."