“I don’t have a crystal ball. All I have is right here.” He held his hands wide, palms up. “Can you forgive me?”
She shut her eyes against the raw emotion spilling from the sea of blue trained on her face. No sales pitch there. Just a whole lot of Lucas, showing her the inner reaches of his heart. “This is a lot to take in. Without the divorce, I don’t get my money. How can I live with that?”
His expression grew cunning. “How can you live with yourself if you do get your money? You don’t want to be a slave to need, yet you’re willing to be one to your grandfather.”
She flinched. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re dependent on your grandfather and his money to grant you a measure of control over a life that can’t be controlled.” He advanced on her, backing her up until she hit the wall. “I’m not above stacking the deck to get what I want, and I want you, Cia Wheeler. I dare you to take a risk on us. I dare you to stare your grandfather in the eye and tell him to keep his money, because you’re keeping your marriage.”
Vocalized in Lucas’s whiskey-smooth voice, her name sounded beautiful. Exactly right. It was too much. He saw too much, wanted too much. He made her want too much.
“How can I?” she whispered.
“Simple. You have needs, whether you like it or not. They’re part of being human, so you have to make a choice. Do you need your grandfather to take care of you financially? Or do you need to take a chance on a new deal with me? A mutually beneficial deal, because, honey, you need me as much as I need you. The question is, can you admit it?”
There it was. He’d drawn the line, given her a choice. Maybe it was that easy to just say yes. But it couldn’t be. “What if I don’t want kids?”
He flashed a grin. “What if I do? What if I don’t want you to keep a single stitch of your wardrobe? What if I want to put on clown makeup and join the circus? What if—”
“Okay. I get it.” And he got her. Not so difficult to believe after all, not when it was Lucas. That’s why the betrayal had hurt so much, because he’d twisted the knife with expert knowledge. “You’re saying we’ll figure it out.”
“Together. I love you and that will never change. It’s the only guarantee I’ve got. Well, I can also guarantee we’ll fight over the radio station. But I’m willing to overlook your terrible taste in music if it means I get a real wife out of the deal. Do I?”
Real. Everything she’d been afraid to want until Lucas. The divorce deal was a flawed shield against a real relationship, but fear of losing something meaningful had squelched all her courage to reach for that dream.
She’d done her best to get rid of Lucas before he could hurt her, but he kept coming back. Maybe it was finally time to stop fighting it. Time to admit she loved him fiercely.
Could she take a chance on a marriage deal? Could she risk the possibilities, bad or good?
“No.” Mind made up, she inspected him through narrowed eyes and crossed her arms. “How is that fair? You get a real wife in exchange for exposure to my excellent taste in music. Yet I’ll be forced to listen to songs about cheating, honky-tonks and cheap beer? No deal. Find a pen and sign the copy of the papers right now unless you can agree to find a type of music we both like.”
His gaze played over her face, and when he smiled, the sun rose. No point in denying it. She’d given a huge piece of her heart to Lucas a long time ago, and he was offering to fill that hole with himself. Love had healed her, and now, she could let him do that.
“Opera?” he suggested and yanked her into his arms, engulfing her in the scent of clean pine. The scent of her real husband.
His mouth captured hers before she could argue opera was more a type of theater than a type of music. Lucas kissed her, and her heart became whole, then swelled, too big for her chest.
She pulled back a tiny bit, unwilling to be too far from him. “I really, really hope you meant it when you said you love me, because if you want a real wife, you’re going to have to suffer through a big, formal wedding. And I’m asking your mother to help plan it.”
He groaned. “I meant it. You know you’ll have to suffer through a real honeymoon in exchange, right?”
“With lots of real sex? Dios, the things I do for you.” With a tsk, she smiled. “I must love you a lot.”
“Well, then. Since we’re already married, the big, formal wedding is merely symbolic. So the honeymoon comes first.” He peeled back her robe and rolled his eyes at the tank top underneath. “Please. I’m begging you. Let me buy you some nice, tasteful sleepwear not made from cotton.”