He wanted to touch her stomach again, to assure himself that it was real. She was real. Everything that had just transpired was real. He finally had the answer to his prayers—well, perhaps not his prayers or his sister’s—but certainly the prayers of his mother, the staff, and all the employees at Wintersea.

His hand hovered just above her stomach, slowly sinking the longer he stood there. Just as he almost touched her again, he stopped himself. He made himself take a few steps back. Nothing was confirmed. Bella hadn’t actually agreed to marry him. For all he knew, she could change her mind about the baby and his involvement.

But knowing what he did about her, he had absolute certainty she’d make it possible for him to see his child. He scrubbed his hand over his face.

His child.

Maybe he needed a lie down as well.

A few hours later, Liam found himself standing in the same spot he had before, only this time he held a tray laden with plates of food. Bella was sitting up in bed, her gaze bouncing from him to the food, as if she couldn’t actually believe he’d serve her.

Then again, maybe her disbelief had nothing to do with that and everything to do with their situation.

What a fine, mucked-up mess this was turning out to be.

“I’ll set this down on the table beside the bed, shall I?” He crossed the room, put the tray down, and then waited.

“You want to eat in bed?” she asked, her voice a little rough from sleep.

The thought of feeding her in bed was agreeable to him, but probably not to her. “I’ve already eaten.” He gestured to the food. “This is all for you.”

Her golden eyes warmed up a little before she turned and started uncovering the plates. “Thank you.”

“My cook assured me that everything is perfectly safe for a pregnant woman.” He smiled. “For you.”

Bella settled against the bed again, already eating. Her eyes closed in obvious pleasure at the taste. His smile deepened.

“Your cook is really good. Maybe even better than Daisy,” Bella said around a mouthful of grilled vegetables. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

He sat on the side of the bed. “I won’t.”

After a few minutes more, Bella stopped eating. “When I woke up from my nap, I did some praying.”

“And thinking,” she added quickly, like she thought he’d make fun of her.

“Soul searching is a good thing,” he replied.

“If I say yes, then I’d like to get married as soon as possible. Like within the month, if not sooner.”

He fiddled with the blanket wrapped around her legs. “I’ve no objection to that.”

“In a church.”

He nodded.

“By one of my relatives, but not my dad. I want him to walk me down the aisle.”

It could be worse, he supposed.

“And after the honeymoon, I’m going on a mission trip. For two months. I’d already committed to it, before all this happened,” she said in a rush.

And there it was.

He exhaled. “Bella, are you trying to test me? I don’t care what you do with you life—it’s your life. Career woman or stay-at-home mother.” He shrugged. “Entirely up to you.”

Her brow creased. “You’re okay with not seeing me for two months?”

“If this is about fidelity—”

She held up a hand. “You gave me your word, so I’m going to trust you not to break it. But we’ll be apart for sixty days. Six. Zero. Won’t that bother you at all?”

Of course not, he nearly snapped. He barely knew her enough to miss her, but then he reconsidered. Pointing out the obviousness of their marriage was not the way to start it. “I trust you to keep your word. So while I’ll miss your lovely face, I won’t be too put out.”

Bella looked away. “That’s good.”

“Shall we pick a date?” He pulled his mobile out of his pocket. “I’ve my calendar.”

“I need to explain things to my parents,” she said. The sadness in her voice hit him like a sledgehammer to the chest. “They’ll be shocked.”

“But happy,” he reminded her.

She swung her gaze back to him. “What about your parents?”

“My mother will be pleased,” he said. She really would, and she would welcome the addition of a baby, her very first grandchild.

“And your dad?”

“He passed when I was twenty-two.” Five years ago. Had it been that many years already? He hadn’t thought of it in ages. In fact, he rarely thought of the man who had absolutely nothing to do with him. There wasn’t a twinge of guilt, of what might have been if they’d reconciled… nothing.

She grabbed his hand and squeezed it, sympathy in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Liam.”

“Thank you.” He allowed himself to bask in her comfort for a moment. “In any case, my sister might be the lone dissenting voice. However, once I assure Bridget that you are nothing like Verity, her big sister concerns shall be put to rest.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister. I have six brothers and sisters. My brother Gabriel is the oldest. Everyone’s adopted but me.”

Her parents had adopted six children? “You’ll have to tell me all about your family sometime.”

She gave him an odd look. “I though you already knew everything about me.”

“I know what’s on paper, and I didn’t read all of it. Just the important bits,” he said.

“My family is one of the most important bits about me.”

A strange sort of pang made his heart beat funny. Would he ever be one of the most important bits about her? Honestly, did it matter? They were both getting what they wanted out of this marriage—money and respectability. God, he made their marriage sound like the plot of a new BBC drama.


A wane smile curved the corners of her lips. “Thanks.” She let go of his hand, denying him her particular brand of warmth, which he hadn’t realized he missed until that moment.

He flexed his fingers, fighting the urge to take hold of her hand again. “When would be a good time to talk to your family?”

“They’re five hours behind us, so either now or tomorrow sometime. They were a little surprised by my trip.”

Liam grinned. “They’re not keen on their daughter traveling alone?”

“Normally, I travel to third-world countries alone.”

Reckless woman. He made a face. “Why would you do that?”

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