Their time was up and there was no point in any more talking, no point in staying another minute. She felt totally spent. It was an act of will to pick up her handbag and rise to her feet. A spurt of tears blurred her eyes as she looked at Jordan for the last time. She had to force her self to say the final words.
‘Goodbye. Don’t come after me, Jordan. It’s over.’
The shock of absolute finality from Ivy catapulted Jordan from the bench, the need to bar her exit from the pagoda slicing straight through the conflicts raging in his mind.
He couldn’t let her go.
That was the bottom line.
He stood in her way, hands held up in a commanding appeal to stop. She did, actually reeling back a step to keep distance between them, clutching her handbag as a defensive shield, her lovely green eyes awash with tears, drowning pools of despair begging him to let her pass without interference.
It screwed up his thoughts and emotions even further. He cared about this woman, didn’t want to give her pain, hated her distress. The urge to sweep her into his em brace and give her every physical comfort he could—kiss her tears away, cradle her head on his shoulder, stroke her hair—stormed through him. Only the absolute certainty in the saner part of his mind that it would be a mistake held him back. She would fight him, hate him for not respecting her decision.
He had to fight the decision, change it around. But what with? She had spoken the truth. All the weekends with Ivy had been a getaway from his normal life. It had made them special. She had made them special. He hadn’t wanted anything she might not like to intrude on what they had together.
He’d deliberately spun that strategy out, using the cruise to keep it going, because he had expected their relationship to hit a snag somewhere along the line and come to an end. It was a perfectly rational expectation. He had actually anticipated his real life becoming one of the snags, not the omission of it.
‘I simply wanted you to be happy with me, Ivy,’ he explained. ‘Happy with where we were and what we were doing.’
‘Happy to be in your bed,’ she retorted fiercely, dashing the tears from her eyes, her chest heaving as she scooped in a deep breath and faced him with what she believed. ‘It’s just sex with you, isn’t it, Jordan? You’re not looking for a life partner. You certainly don’t see me as one. So why don’t you simply admit that and let me pass because we are not going anywhere any more.’
A life partner…
No, he hadn’t been looking for one, had been determined on not going down the marital road with all its pitfalls to suck a man down. Yet, might they not be avoid ed with a woman like Ivy?
Why not try it?
The thought zapped into Jordan’s mind and grew powerfully persuasive tentacles. Margaret approved of her. Having the two women in his household sharing an easy bond was a very positive plus. Besides, a marriage proposal was the strongest possible way of rebutting the reasons Ivy gave for walking away.
It proved he wanted a real relationship with her. He wouldn’t lose her today. That was certain. As for the future, if it didn’t work out, Ivy was not the kind of person who would milk him for all she could get. He was as sure of that as it was possible to be. Besides, right now he didn’t care if there was a price to be paid down the line. He wasn’t ready to let her go.
A public engagement would make the transition to sharing his world much easier. People would be currying favour from her, not wanting to upset her in any fashion. It gave her protection from the gossips, from the guys who might want to hit on her, and the mean-spirited women who might be jealous of her success with him.
Most critically, it bought more time.
‘You’re wrong, Ivy,’ he said, his conviction that this was the right move already cemented in his mind. ‘I was keeping you to myself because what we have together was and is the most important thing in my life and I want it to go on being the most important. I hadn’t planned to ask you at this point but I will because I believe we do and can have a great relationship, regardless of our different worlds.’
He saw the outright rejection of him begin to waver in her eyes, felt an exhilarating burst of adrenaline at the sure prospect of winning. Seal the deal, he told himself. Then he could take her in his arms and make her happy with him again.
‘Ask me what?’ Even her voice was furred with uncertainty.
‘To marry me.’
She looked totally stunned.
He spread his hands in open appeal as he nailed home what he was offering. ‘To become my wife, Ivy. To be my partner in life. To share everything, the good and the bad.’
He took a step towards her.
She didn’t move. Her eyes were glazed with shock.
‘To make a future together, have children,’ he went on, surprising himself with what was coming out of his mouth, but not caring, intent on pursuing the need to have this woman, moving closer, reaching out, curling his hands around her upper arms, his eyes boring a determined hole through her shock, to engage her mind, her heart with a completely different scenario to the one she had brought to him today.
‘Ivy, you’re the right woman for me,’ he pressed. ‘Don’t you see that? Don’t you feel it?’
She stared at him, her gaze swallowed up by deep green pools of vulnerability. He saw her struggling with the wish to believe. There was no resistant strength in her hands when he took her handbag and tossed it onto the bench, no resistance in her body as he drew it against his. He gently cupped her face, the fire in his belly blazing from his eyes.
‘I won’t ask you to give up your farm. I won’t demand that you do anything you don’t want to do. We’ll sort out how best to work our partnership as we go along, find a balance that we’re both comfortable with. We’ve been good at that so far, haven’t we?’
She was listening, still wary of believing but weighing up what he was saying, wanting it to be true.
He had to make it ring true.
‘And if you’re ready and willing to mix in with my usual social scene, we can start that this weekend,’ he went on, driven to rid her of all doubt. ‘I haven’t been hiding you in my closet, Ivy. I’ve been waiting for you to feel confident at my side, confident enough to take on anything with me because I’m your man. Not a playboy. Your man,’ he repeated emphatically.
Tears welled into her eyes again, but there was hope shining through them, hope and something that twisted Jordan’s heart, making him want to wrap her tightly in his arms and hold her safe from the whole world and any hurt in it.