A Convenient Proposal(3)

“My boss, who also happens to be my dad, says he’ll replace me if I don’t show up this week.”

“So you have family who would like to see you home again.”

“Parents and three sisters, to begin with. But…” He drew a deep breath. “Zelda and Al are getting married on Valentine’s Day.”

“You still love her?”

“No. No, I’m over her. I think.”

Arden let the indecision pass. “But being there when everyone is celebrating will be hard.”

“You have a gift for understatement.” His grin flashed in her direction. “There will be a slew of parties. Half the town belongs to the country club, and everybody wants to host the happy couple, even if they’re only inviting the same people they saw at last weekend’s barbecue and last night’s open house.”

He stared into the distance, as if he could see all the way to Georgia. Darkness hid the color of his eyes, but she could appreciate the strong bone structure of his face, the cleft in his chin and the curls in the hair he obviously hadn’t cut for six months. He looked like a romantic poet. Arden found it hard to believe a woman would leave him for someone else.

Especially after he’d kissed her.

“Maybe you need some camouflage,” she said, trying to be helpful. “Another girlfriend to prove you’re over being left at the altar.”

Griff halted suddenly, as if he’d run into a brick wall. He wore a bemused, amazed expression. “A beautiful woman,” he said, in a wondering voice, “who I’m obviously in love with.”

Arden nodded, going along with the joke she’d started. “Definitely a plus. Do you have one of those?”

He ignored the question. “And who is obviously passionately in love with me.”

“That would certainly show them, wouldn’t it?”

Turning toward her, he drew her close, holding her hands against his chest. His eyes, black in the night, fixed on her face. “Would you be that woman? Could you be obviously, passionately, devotedly in love with me?” He kissed one set of her knuckles, and then the other.

The touch of his mouth set off thrills inside her—a fact both enticing and embarrassing. She was desperately tempted to do exactly what he asked.

But the idea was crazy, and she shouldn’t be so easy to sway. “I don’t think so, Griff. Sorry.”

His hands loosened and she pulled free, then began to walk south, away from him.

“But you said you’d marry me.” Having him behind her muffled the words.

Looking over her shoulder, she scowled at him. “How much champagne have you had tonight?”

“Two bottles, before the last one.” He came closer. “But that’s irrev-irrelevant.”

“It’s perfectly relevant. You’re too drunk to know what you’re saying.”

“Not true. And you said yes. ‘Right away,’ you said.”

“I didn’t mean it. You didn’t mean it, either.”

“I do now.”

She whirled to look at him. “You want me to marry you?”

“Well, actually, I’d like you to pretend to want to marry me. And I’ll pretend to want to marry you. We don’t have to do anything permanent.” His smile vanished. “I’m not planning on going through that hell again.”

Arden knew exactly how he felt. “But won’t people in your hometown want to throw all those same parties? Won’t they be expecting a wedding?”

“We won’t let it get that far. All we have to do is stay happy through Zelda and Al’s wedding. Then we’ll have a big fight, break up and never see each other again. It’s a brilliant plan.”

“It’s a ridiculous idea. I can’t pretend to be in love.” Though some people could, she’d discovered in the recent past.

“Am I so repulsive?”

He stood about ten feet away, swaying as if a stiff breeze might knock him down. Hearing the despair in his voice, Arden could barely keep from going over and demonstrating exactly how far from repulsive he was.

“You’re a very attractive man, Griff.” She wouldn’t do this. She couldn’t. “I just—”

Immediately, he stepped closer. “You don’t have time for an all-expenses-paid vacation in sunny Georgia?”

She had nothing but time. “That’s not the problem.”

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