Ethan’s brows furrowed. “No – of course not. Like I said, I should have thought of it sooner. I’m kind of out of practice, too, I guess. Hell, we’re lucky you even found me. This is a big ranch, you know. I could have been anywhere.”
“It wasn’t luck. Rob told me. He said…” She trailed off, not wanting to go there, but she was learning that Ethan was like a dog going after a bone when it came to finding out the truth.
“What did Rob tell you?”
There it was again, that implacable tone that made her feel about five years old. “He said the way to your heart was through your stomach and…you know.” She waited for the storm of his anger, but it didn’t come. When she glanced up, Ethan was shaking his head, a strange expression on his face.
“Figures. Sweetheart, the way to my heart is through being yourself and telling me the truth. The whole truth. I’m looking for a partner, not some sex-crazed chef, although…now that I say that aloud, it doesn’t sound half bad.”
She threw the pillow at him.
He caught it easily and grinned. “So, let me get this straight. You were so worried about losing me, you baked all morning and then seduced me in the open air?”
Could she hide under the blankets? When he said it like that it sounded ridiculous. She pushed back against the headboard as he made his way across the room and sat down next to her on the bed. “And now you think you’re pregnant?”
“I don’t know. It’s stupid, right? I couldn’t possibly know.” She ducked her head, unable to look him in the eye, but he took her chin in his hand and tilted it up. Before she could speak, his kiss cut off her words and despite everything, she found herself leaning into it. He gathered her up into his lap and in the safety of the circle of his arms, she let all her worries slip away as his mouth ravaged hers. She responded hungrily, unable to get enough of his attentions.
But when his hands skimmed up her waist to her breasts, she blocked his way and broke off the kiss. “No. Ethan, we can’t keep doing this.”
“Why not? If you’re pregnant, it won’t hurt the baby, and if you aren’t, don’t you think we should remedy that as soon as possible?”
Something melted within her. It was so hard to resist the touch of his hands, or his logic, but she fought her way to mental clarity. She was not marrying this man, could not marry anyone until she was financially stable on her own two feet. Her only hope was that she was mistaken and there was no baby. If they kept on the way they’d started she’d never be able to leave when it was time to go. She was already half-addicted to him and he was still a stranger.
“We have to wait.”
“Why?” he growled into her neck from where he was placing kisses behind her ear, down her clavicle, under her chin.
“Because. We aren’t married.” She pushed him away. “There may be a ring on my finger but until we’re married, I can’t be absolutely sure about your intentions. Maybe it’s too late, maybe there’s already a baby growing inside me, but if there isn’t it’s time for me to be responsible.” She wasn’t sure her excuses would work – wasn’t entirely sure she wanted them to.
He tapped his fingers on the comforter, clearly not happy with this turn of events. “We can be careful. I’ve got more condoms around here somewhere.”
“Ethan, no.” She held her breath.
With a sigh he lifted her off of his lap and stood up. “If you want to break off the engagement, just say so.”
She should break it off right now. Keeping up this pretense was only going to hurt them both. But her job…where would she find a new one in this economy?
“I don’t want to break it off. I just want to learn more about my future husband first. Is that so bad?”
“I guess not. Come on.” He held out his hand.
She took it uncertainly. “Where are we going?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he led her to the back porch, snagging a can of soda and another beer on his way through the kitchen. He popped open the soda, handed it to her, and indicated the swing. She sat down on one side and he sat down next to her, taking a swig of his own drink.
“We’ll keep you off the booze until you know one way or the other about being pregnant. Meanwhile, what do you want to know?”
“Um…” Where was that list of questions when she needed it? “How old are you?”
Four years older than her. That sounded about right. “Did you go to college?”
“College?” He laughed. “You’re looking at my university right here, Sweetheart. My parents died last summer, left the ranch to me. I’d worked it my whole life, but working it and running it turned out to be two different things.”
“That’s a huge responsibility. Don’t you have any other family?”
“A sister. Claire. She wasn’t interested in coming home to help.”
“Oh.” They swung in silence for a minute. “I always wanted one of those big extended families. You know, where everyone comes for the holidays and it’s so noisy you can’t even hear yourself think?”
He nodded. “Don’t you have family?”
“Yep. My mom. A sister.”
“Sounds like the makings of a big family.”
“Neither are married, and my sister has no kids.”
“Ah. Good thing we’re starting early, then.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll just have to have a dozen to make up for everyone else.”
She stilled. “Would you really want a dozen kids?”
“If I could have them, I’d welcome every one.”
If he could have them. Evidently he could have them, if Autumn was to be believed. Of course, it was silly to think she could know one way or the other. Women couldn’t tell if they were pregnant within 24 hours of making love.
He somehow trusted her when she said there hadn’t been another man for years. He didn’t know why – it was stupid, really. Just like a woman to lie about something like that if it got her what she wanted, but when he’d accused her of doing that, the hurt and outrage in her eyes was real. He never wanted to have her look at him that way again.
Which was why he was an idiot for talking about a dozen children. Hell, they couldn’t even afford one – not with the bank crawling down his neck. How was he supposed to break that to her? When was he supposed to tell her? Before the wedding or after?