She stopped short, adjusting to the fact that her expectations for disaster had morphed into a nonevent.

“Jax,” a female voice blurted, and she turned to see Nikki and Abigail—along with several of the kids and staff from the club—waving as they sat at one of the benches that lined the courtroom like pews in a church. Which seemed fitting, seeing how her prayers had just been answered.

Too bad the one that really mattered hadn’t come true.

The encouraging smiles of her friends and makeshift family, along with Abigail’s two-thumbs-up gesture, were so welcome that a sting of grateful tears threatened. Jax swallowed them back and waved in return.

Hoping to take a seat before her late arrival was noticed, she turned and hurried up the aisle toward the front of the room. And then she spied the back of a familiar dark-headed figure clad in a gorgeous suit, and her stomach stopped, dropped and rolled to her toes.

Her footsteps slowed, and when Blake turned in his seat and met her gaze, she spent the next five seconds trying to pry her heart from her throat.

The look he shot her was loaded. And as his eyes roamed over her with a mixture of relief, elation and hunger, her body thrummed in response. His desire was a given, but was he glad to see her? Or was he just glad she looked well because he was worried about his baby? Maybe he was just grateful the mother of his child might avoid a conviction now that she’d finally shown up.

Heart tapping out a rhythm so fast she was sure the beat could be felt across the courtroom, she adopted the coolest, most unflustered look she could and slid into the seat next to Blake.

“I’m late,” she whispered stupidly, because it sure beat weeping and throwing herself into his arms like the emotional, hormonal woman she was. And the only other option was to punch him on the arm and tell him to start dealing with his father’s death in a constructive way. “I couldn’t find a parking spot.”

“No worries,” he whispered back. “There was a bit of a delay so no one’s noticed.”

“Where’s Sara?”

“I paid her generously for her time and told her I’d take care of today.”

Despite her twenty-three years of practice, breathing suddenly became a complicated process. “Please tell me you aren’t planning on losing my case so I don’t get hired back at the club.”

His gaze firm, he oozed confidence. “I plan on getting every charge against you dropped.”

She blinked hard. “Oh,” she said, feeling even more stupid for suggesting he’d intentionally sabotage her future. Of course he wouldn’t want her convicted of a crime. She was carrying his child. “Well...” She struggled to swallow past her tight throat. “Thank you.”

His gray eyes held her captive, so cool juxtaposed against the handsome planes of his face and dark eyebrows, one bisected by that tiny yet very significant scar. Given all they’d been through, her thanks had sounded weak and anemic, and a flush of embarrassingly awkward heat infused her face. The bustling of the courtroom staff sounded far away. Reflexively she laid her hand on her abdomen, gathering strength from the adorable little imp currently wreaking havoc in her belly, wishing she could allow herself to hope for something more.

“Will you marry me?” he said in a low voice, startling her with the words.

The burning threat of tears was instantaneous, and she was grateful the threat never materialized. It would be hard to hold an intelligent conversation while crying like a silly baby. Because her heart longed for her to scream yes. But sometimes blindly following her heart wasn’t the wise thing to do.

Sometimes the future, your best future, depended on remaining rational. Logical. And this was definitely one of those times.

Although she whispered, her voice was strong. “I love you, Blake,” she said, the words so heartfelt they hurt coming out. “And maybe I am a little overly sensitive about my past. But I deserve better than a man who is constantly questioning my judgment.” Blake grimaced and sucked in a breath, regret radiating in his expression. But a simple “I’m sorry” or an “I messed up” wasn’t going to cut it. Their life together, their family, was too important for her to give in so easily. She forced herself to continue to meet his gaze, refusing to concede too soon, and she straightened her shoulders for good measure. “And I can’t live with a man who is marrying me only out of a sense of duty and responsibility.”

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