She glanced at him and back at the building. “I’m sorry. I’m not following why we’re here or what the implication of this is.”

“For the shelter,” Lucas said quietly. “It can be retrofitted, and I checked on the zoning. No problems.”


“The shelter.” It took another thirty seconds for his meaning to sink in. “You mean my shelter? I’m planning to have it built.”

“I know. This is another option. A less expensive option. Thirty-five percent down and I know a few people we can talk to about the financing.”

“Financing?” If he’d started speaking Swahili, she’d have been equally as challenged to keep up. “I’m not getting a loan. That’s the whole point of accessing my trust fund, so I can pay cash and the shelter will never be threatened with closure. We went over this. Without the trust money, I don’t have thirty-five percent, let alone enough to purchase.”

He clasped her hand with painstaking care. “I’ll give you the money for the down payment.”

The air grew heavy and ominous, tightening her chest. Their agreement specifically called for their assets to remain separate, and that might prove to be a touchier subject than sex. “You didn’t get a terminal cancer diagnosis or something, did you? What’s this all about?”

“You inspire me. Your commitment to victims of abuse is amazing. If I help you do this, you could start the shelter now instead of waiting until you get your money when the divorce is final. Save a few more women in the meantime.”

“Oh, Lucas.”

And that was it. Her heart did a pirouette and splattered somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach.

She rushed on, determined not to dwell on how many king’s horses and how many king’s men it would take to put everything back together again. “I appreciate what you’re saying—I really do. But I can’t get a loan, not for the kind of money we’re talking about. I told you, Courtney and I tried. Our business plan wasn’t viable, and venture capitalists want profits. Asking you to marry me was the absolute last resort, but it turned out for the best. If we have a loan, there’s always a possibility of foreclosure if donations dry up, and I can’t have that hanging over our heads.”

No bank would ever own her shelter. Nothing would have the power to rip it from her fingers. It was far, far better to do it all on her own and never depend on anyone else. Much less painful that way.

“Okay. So, no loan.” A strange light appeared in his eyes. “At least think about the possibility of this place. The owner is motivated to sell. Adding in the renovations, the purchase price is around a third of the cost to build. You could save millions.”

Yes, she could. The savings could be rolled forward into operating costs, and it would be years and years before she needed to worry about additional funds beyond the trust money. The idea had merit. She could run the shelter without donations, a huge plus in her mind.

Maybe Lucas could talk the owner into waiting to sell until the divorce came through and she had access to the trust.

She surveyed the site again. The hotel was tucked away in a heavily treed area, off the beaten path. Bad for a hotel and good for a shelter the victims didn’t want their abusers to find. “I do like the location. It’s important for women who’ve taken the step to leave their abusers to feel safe. An out-of-the-way place is ideal. Tell me more about your thoughts.”

Lucas started talking, his voice wandering along her spine, the same way his hands did when he reached for her at night. He threw around real estate terms and an impressive amount of research. When he was all professional and authoritative about his area of expertise, it pulled at her and bobbled her focus, which wasn’t so sharp right now anyway.

Her brain was too busy arguing with her heart about whether she’d actually been stupid enough to fall for her all-too-real husband.

No question about it. She’d put herself in exactly the position she’d sworn never to be in again—reliant on a man to make her complete and happy. All her internal assurances to the contrary and all the pretending had been lies.

This was where brainless had gotten her: harboring impossible feelings for Lucas.

It hardly mattered if Lucas freed her to jump in and enjoy life alongside him. It hardly mattered if she’d accidentally married a man who understood her and everything she was about. It hardly mattered if she wished her soul had room for a mate and that such fairy tales existed.

They didn’t.

Life didn’t allow for such simplicity. Anything she valued was subject to being taken away, and the tighter she held on, the greater the hurt when it was gone. The only way to stay whole was to beat fate to the punch by getting rid of it first.

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