Jonas's mind went blank for a moment. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. When his brain kicked into gear again a few seconds later, it was all he could do to keep from yelling so loud that every guest on the floor would hear.

"What the hell do you mean, you-don't-think-it's-necessary-thank-you-very-much?" he ground out between clenched teeth. "We have to get married."

She drew her knees up under the sheet and wrapped her arms around them tightly. Her hair was in wild disarray, and the expression on her face was more set and stubborn than Jonas had ever seen it.

"I don't see that anything has changed much, Jonas. If we didn't have to get married last week, we don't have to get married this week."

"You're pregnant!"

"So?"

His mind raced, searching for the correct approach. "You want this kid to be born a bastard?"

"There are no bastards in the state of California. By law every child is legitimate. Your name can go on the birth certificate."

"Thank you very much. Jesus." He quickly abandoned that tactic and tried another. "I thought you'd want marriage. I thought you'd be happier married, more secure. I thought you'd appreciate the sense of stability. Verity, this is ridiculous. You know you'd be happier married now that you're going to have a baby."

"I don't want to be married simply because I'm pregnant."

Jonas's mouth fell open as he dimly began to perceive the source of the trouble. "Oh, Christ," he said.

"Don't tell me… "

"If you had really wanted to marry me you could have asked me anytime during the past few months.

You never said a word."

"Now, Verity… "

"I wonder when Caitlin is going to call." Verity glanced at the phone, then at her watch. "It's only ten.

She's a night person. She's probably still going through those old files."

"Verity, shut up and listen to me, dammit. You've got this all wrong," Jonas said harshly. "The only reason I didn't ask you to marry me before now was because… because… " For Christ's sake, think, you fool. But how could he explain that he had just never thought about the matter until now? Everything had been so comfortable. He had been content. "There was no need. No rush, I mean. Everything was going along fine, we were getting to know each other. Establishing a relationship. Yeah, that's what we were doing—establishing a relationship."

"A relationship, Jonas?"

Jonas wished he'd read some of those pop psychology books about male-female relationships that were always being churned out. Trouble was, women were the only ones who read that sort of thing.

Therefore, only women knew the right words and euphemisms; only women had a good command of the vocabulary needed to talk oneself out of a mess like this. A man was left stranded and helpless.

"I would have gotten around to marrying you eventually. The baby just speeds things up a little, that's all."

Verity smiled wryly. "Relax, Jonas. You don't have to think of any excuses. I appreciate the gesture, but I assure you it's not necessary. There really is no need for us to get married."

"This is not a gesture, dammit. I am not thinking up excuses. You want an apology? All right, I apologize for not having asked you to marry me before you got pregnant. It was just an oversight."

"Don't apologize. I don't want any apologies. And I don't like being an oversight." Her self-control slipped for a moment. For a split second Jonas caught a glimpse of the wariness and the very feminine anger that lay in the depths of her eyes. Then she had herself back in hand. "You've been honest with me this far, don't spoil your track record. As I said, I appreciate your offer of marriage, but there's no need for it. There's no reason things can't continue just as they have been for the past few months."

"What about your father? You think Emerson is going to like this?" He was clutching at straws and he knew it.

Verity chuckled. "You know my father well enough to realize that if he hasn't come after you with a shotgun by now, he's not likely to ever. He likes you. I'm sure he'll be pleased about the baby. But he raised me to make my own decisions. If he gives you a hard time, just tell him you did the noble thing and offered marriage. When he hears I'm the one who chose not to accept the offer, he'll back off. He knows me."

"I know you, too, Verity. Well enough to realize you're making the wrong decision here. You'll be much happier married. Trust me."

"In spite of the psychic link we share, Jonas, there are still a lot of things we don't know about each other. Don't assume you understand me perfectly, and don't assume you know what's best for me. You don't. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go down the hall to the bathroom." She reached for her cane and slid out of bed.

"Maybe you don't understand me all that well, either," he shot back, feeling frustrated. "Maybe you're making some dumb assumptions here, lady."

She didn't bother to answer. She was sliding her feet into her slippers.

Jonas's hand clenched and unclenched as he watched her with brooding eyes. A few minutes ago everything had seemed crystal clear and totally straightforward. He and Verity had been living together.

They were in love. She was pregnant with his kid. It was time to get married. Nothing could be simpler or more logical.

It hadn't even occurred to him that she would refuse him. But it should have, he thought angrily as he watched her make her way to the door. He should know by now that Verity was stubborn, unpredictable, and far too independent for her own good. He'd complained to her father about those faults on several occasions.

But this was one of the few times Jonas had run up against Verity's feminine pride, and he didn't know quite how to deal with it. Apparently the little firebrand was too proud to marry him just because of the baby.

She had wanted to be asked properly, he realized. She had wanted to be married for her own sake, not simply because there were extenuating circumstances.

But he wasn't marrying her just because of the baby. He knew that, even if she didn't understand.

Why in hell hadn't he thought about marrying her last month? Jonas wondered in disgust. The answer was simple: last month he had taken everything about their relationship for granted. It hadn't occurred to him to formalize things, for the simple reason that everything was working out just fine. He had assumed that Verity was happy too, at least until she had started subtly withdrawing from him.

Jonas wondered how long she would hold his bad timing against him.

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