“This is a little much, don’t you think? I don’t need some fancy ring. What’s their return policy?”

He folds his hands in front of him and looks at me, amused. “My fiancée deserves the best and that’s what she’s going to get.”

I glare at him, but I have to admit, I don’t hate the word when it comes out of AJ’s mouth. With anyone else, a hard “no” would sit as solid as jail bars around the thought of marriage. Why are you betraying me? I ask myself. I’m a little shocked when a series of thoughts pop up to answer: Because he’s different, he respects you, he’s loved you most of your adult life when you couldn’t even get a pet to stay loyal.

I drop my head into my hands and close my eyes. Oh my God, shut up, I tell myself.

When I glance at AJ, he still has that amused smirk on his face as though he’s reading my thoughts. I try not to let him see it on my face. The last thing I want him to know is that I’m falling for him. And I certainly don’t want to admit it to myself.

The lady comes out with a clear glass box. “I hope you like some of these choices. I’ve chose some more subtle pieces and a few more extravagant ones.”

The “subtle” ones are about as inconspicuous as a neon light pointing at my finger, and the extravagant ones look heavy enough to anchor a yacht. But there’s one that seems to sparkle more than the others. It’s not subtle by any means, but it is a little daintier than the others, and damn, it’s stunning.

“This one is quite beautiful,” AJ says, pointing. And again, as though he’s reading my mind, he chooses the one I would have. I have a feeling he knows there is no way I am going to pick out a ring without knowing he can get his money back. This is all on him.

The woman’s smile brightens. “It’s a show stopper, isn’t it? A one of a kind, hand made by one of our best jewelers in Italy.”

It’s a full band of diamonds and rose gold with a large, glinting stone in the middle. With it is a separate wedding band, thicker than the engagement ring, also encased in diamonds.

“What do you think?” AJ says.

I mouth the word Amazon. The woman doesn’t see it and so she seems confused when he laughs.

“It’s by far the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen, but—”

AJ interrupts me. “We’ll take the set.”

My eyebrows pull together in confusion. Why would we need a wedding band as well when we plan to separate long before the sham of an engagement comes to a head?

“Wonderful!” the woman says.

She plucks the ring set out of the case and sets them on a small velvet mat in front of us. Before I can pull away, he slips the engagement ring on my finger. To my surprise, it fits perfectly. Instead of letting go of my hand, he continues to hold it. I feel a fullness in my chest as I look at it. Something heavy sits in my throat and tears well up in my eyes.

“Oh yes,” the woman says thoughtfully. “That’s definitely the one. That’s the reaction we like to see in here. I’ll be right back to ring those up.”

She takes the wedding ring, but leaves me with the engagement ring on my finger. When I look up at AJ, I feel scared and vulnerable and … no. That’s not love I feel. It can’t be. We had sex. Incredible sex. But still, it’s just sex. I’ve never developed feelings from a sexual encounter and I’m not about to start now.

But even as I tell myself this, those feelings start to pool in my stomach. I try to tell myself that this is just a temporary, hormonal reaction. But what I tell myself and what I feel are at war with each other.

I look down at the blank screen of my phone and sniff. “I have to go. There’s an emergency at work,” I say quickly. It’s a lie, but I have to get away.

“Can I give you a ride?” he says, sounding worried. I forgot that the Hope Center isn’t just an investment to him. He actually cares about the patients. Damn him. Why does he have to be so perfect, especially when I haven’t quite secured the walls I’m building around myself specifically to keep him out?

“No, I’ll catch a cab.”

And with that, I leave. There is no emergency. In fact, I have only a handful of patients to see today. Small things like a sprained ankle and a jammed finger. They are things I could have the nurse take care of, but right now I just need to dive into my work and forget about everything else.

Tags: Penny Wylder Romance
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