She cocked her head. “You think I’m writing an online diary?”
“No. I’m just emailing a friend.”
“Can I come in?” She looked hot, peeking up at him like that. Just being this close to her made him want to touch her cheek, or better yet…
“Give me one minute to pack all this up and I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
“How about meeting me in the bedroom?”
A tiny smile quirked her lips and desire raced through his bloodstream. “Let’s meet in the kitchen first.”
She shut the door gently but firmly, and he sighed, frustrated she didn’t seem as eager to be with him as he was to be with her. He retreated to the kitchen and grabbed himself a beer from the fridge.
A minute later she joined him, taking a seat at the table. She looked nervous; she was playing with her new ring, twisting it around and around her finger.
“I know this is going to sound weird, and I don’t want it to be, but I feel like I have to say it,” she began.
Oh hell, if this was going where he thought it was going, he was just going to have to pack it in. First his parents’ death, then the discovery of the debt, then Lacey’s abandonment and now this woman, who’d managed to worm her way into his heart in less than 24 hours, was going to break up with him? And probably wanted to keep the ring for a souvenir?
“I don’t think we should sleep together anymore until the wedding,” she blurted out.
Ethan hesitated. That wasn’t what he’d expected. Sure, he’d thought about slowing things down, too. Hadn’t he said as much to Rob? But that was before their picnic. “Come again?” he said.
“Sex. I don’t think we should have sex until we’re married.” She bit her lip, her expression pleading with him to understand. To not get mad.
“Let me get this straight,” Ethan finally said. “You came out here to get married. You had sex with me – made love to me – within hours of meeting me, and again at lunch time today. Why the sudden change of heart?”
“It’s just…” she scanned the room as if looking for help. “It’s just all backwards, you know? We’re supposed to fall in love first, then get married, then make love.”
Ethan’s eyebrows shot for his hairline. “Are you really that traditional?”
She flushed. “No. Obviously not.”
“Then what’s really eating you?”
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”
A coil of unease tightened in Ethan’s stomach. She was hiding something – something she knew he wouldn’t want to know. Well, he wouldn’t abide that kind of behavior. He took her hand and tugged it gently until she looked up at him.
“No secrets. That’s my one rule for this marriage – everything else we can negotiate. Whatever it is you need to tell me you tell me right now. I won’t bite. I may be angry, I may not; depends on what you’re hiding. But I won’t hurt you – we’ll figure it out.”
She shook her head again. “I can’t.”
“Autumn. Spill it.”
* * * * *
Autumn sucked in a breath. There was no denying the authority in that tone of voice. He’d guessed right away she was keeping a secret – now he wouldn’t give in until she told him everything.
No. Not everything.
Just enough to distract him from her real secret.
“I think I’m pregnant.”
Ethan’s mouth opened, closed, then opened again. “You came here to marry me pregnant with someone else’s baby?”
“What? No! Of course not. I haven’t been with a man in three years!” Hysterical laughter bubbled up in her throat at this particular misunderstanding, but she clamped it back, knowing full well it wouldn’t help her any. “I mean I’m…not on birth control. And we didn’t use any protection that first time and…I feel different. I know it’s too soon to tell. I know it’s crazy, but I just…know. I’m sorry. I should have said something last night before we made love. It just happened so fast and I was drunk…”
He stood, knocking his chair to the floor. “You’re not on birth control. And you didn’t tell me? How many times have you done this?”
She sat back like she’d been slapped. “Done what?”
“Had unprotected sex with a stranger and then extorted money from him. Is that how you make your living? Is that what this is all about? You sleep around, get knocked up, gather diamond rings, then take off, get rid of the baby, and cash in?”
“No!” She stood, too. “How can you say that? I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never met anyone who made me lose my head, or…I just told you. I haven’t been with another man in three years. I was waiting – waiting until I could take care of myself, so I wouldn’t ever get stuck in a relationship with a man like you!”
“What do you mean, a man like me?”
“A selfish, arrogant, misogynistic control freak who’ll steal the best years of my life, lure me into depending on him and then dump me the minute he finds someone younger and prettier.”
She stormed out of the room and back to the spare bedroom, locking the door behind her. That was fantastic, Autumn – way to keep the story going. After this he’d kick her out for sure and then where would she be?
“Autumn.” His voice was muffled through the solid bedroom door, but she could tell he was calmer now. “Open up. We have to talk this through. I’m sorry I yelled, but you can’t blame me for being surprised.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Well, sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. Open the door.”
There was that quiet authority again. It galled her, but she had to respect it and the impetus behind it to do the right thing. The adult thing.
Reluctantly, she crossed the room and turned the lock. When he entered the room, she retreated to the bed, tucking one leg under her and sitting as far from him as she could.
“I just want to know if I have this right. You aren’t on the Pill.”
She shook her head.
“And I didn’t use protection last night. This is my fault as much as yours. At least you brought a condom with you at lunch today. I thought you were just worried about diseases.”
She let out a breath. “I’m worried about everything. I don’t know how to do this – I’m totally out of practice. I was afraid when I pulled out the condom you’d get mad.”