‘And if I said I wanted you?’
Nell closed her eyes on the male speculative gleam in his. God, she really had lost her mind. Now, with all that had happened, she still wanted him so much that it was a physical pain. She knew that if he touched her, if he kissed her again, her resolve would dissolve.
The knowledge was terrifying. She swallowed, her glance lingering on his hands and his long, tapering fingers. Her eyes darkened and a fractured sigh left her lips as she recalled those fingers moving over her skin. For long seconds she was paralysed by a wave of longing.
Several soothing breaths later she regained the use of her vocal cords. ‘I’d say don’t waste your breath. Been there, done that, got the maternity smock!’
Instincts of self-preservation had made her strike out, but as she watched the colour drain from his face as her jibe found its target Nell felt no triumph.
‘I understand that you’re angry with me.’
‘I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with me!’ she exclaimed.
Luiz studied her, his curiosity clear, and asked, ‘Why?’
Nell just looked back at him and shook her head. What was she meant to say—I’m angry because I love you? I’m angry because I’m seriously tempted to take what’s on offer?
‘I think when you stop and think about this without the emotion—’
‘Without emotion!’ she echoed, shaking her head as she saw red. ‘The day I think about marriage without emotion is the day I have a personality transplant! Will you listen to yourself, Luiz? Marriage is about emotion. It’s about love and commitment. I may be pregnant but that doesn’t mean I have to settle for second best.
‘The day I settle for second best is the day I…’ She shrugged and shook her head. ‘It’s just not going to happen. I think my child deserves better.’ The heat died from her face as she lifted her eyes to his and asked simply. ‘Can you offer me better, Luiz?’
‘I can offer you a home where our child will be brought up with parents who are committed to one another.’
Nell’s eyes fell from his. She supposed she ought to be grateful he wasn’t pretending to feel things for her he clearly didn’t, but at that moment being thankful that even after she had virtually begged he was unable to say he loved her was beyond her ability.
‘If I agreed to this I would have to be committed—it’s madness, Luiz. Look, I know you’re trying to be noble and everything,’ she admitted.
‘And you think you should be punished or something…’ That was coming across strongly. ‘Well, I can’t help that. Go jump in an icy lake, give your money to charity if it salves your conscience, but I have to tell you,’ she added in a shaky voice, ‘that the idea of marriage to me being a penance is not all that flattering.’
He regarded her with deep frustration and resisted the childish impulse to tell her that there were women out there who would not consider themselves certifiable if they were to accept his proposal of marriage. That there were women out there who had worked very hard to make him say the words marry me.
But he realised that telling Nell she didn’t know how lucky she was might not be a wise move. It would also give her the ammunition to call him vain, self-satisfied and any other insults that came to mind.
She might also be right.
‘Why do you purposely misinterpret everything I say and do?’
Nell, who translated this complaint as ‘why don’t I agree with everything you say?’ shrugged. ‘What can I say? It’s a gift.’ She anchored her hair behind her ears and, leaning across, took the glass from the coffee table. She wasn’t thirsty, but she needed the breathing and thinking space.
He watched her, his expression brooding as she raised it to her lips and gulped.
‘I could point out the impracticalities of your bringing up a child alone.’
Nell returned his direct look. ‘You could,’ she agreed in a voice that gave no clue to her racing pulse.
‘Or I could fight you for custody?’
He watched the colour fade from her face and regretted his taunt. His eyes fell from hers. ‘Though I don’t think that will be necessary.’
‘Or wise,’ she tacked on seamlessly.
His glance swept upwards and connected with the challenging glitter of her eyes. Holding his gaze, Nell got to her feet and stood there, her hands on her hips, looking, he thought, as proud as a queen for all her baggy sweat pants, tee shirt and that ridiculous cardigan that swamped her.
Through his extreme annoyance a surge of admiration surfaced. Nell Frost was the most obstinate woman he had ever met, but she had guts and an inner toughness that were at variance with the air of extreme fragility more pronounced since her recent weight loss. A frown twitched his eyebrows above his hawkish nose when he recalled how light she had felt in his arms, her bones like a bird. He struggled to make sense of the mixture of lust and protective tenderness that accompanied the recollection.