Derek needs a male heir. Raine needs enough money to go back to Camden, Maine to her ailing grandfather. Derek offers her a solution to both their problems.
Derek dropped into an overstuffed divan opposite Raine. He pulled the leather pouch and brown envelope from his vest pocket, and placed them on the oak table separating them. Alternately, she looked between the pouch and his face.
"I'm not certain how to begin." He wrung his clammy hands. Damn, this is more difficult than I imaged. "We had a discussion several evenings past in the garden?”
"I explained my father’s desire to obtain a male heir and my inability to produce one thus far?”
Dark green eyes searched his. "Yes, clearly.”
"You're a beautiful woman with a significant amount of intellect and a variety of coveted traits and talents."
"Thank you, but you hardly know me."
"That's true." The words managed to slip out his dry throat. “However, what I've witnessed since your arrival exceeds my highest expectations."
"You're in a difficult situation.” He forced a smile. "I'm prepared to offer you a way out."
"A way out of what, Derek? I’m not understanding―"
"Hear me out, please." Rising from the chair, he paced before her. "I realize the arrangement will seem outrageous at first, even obtuse, but I've thought a great deal about it since our meeting in the garden. I took the liberty of consulting an expert."
"An expert? Whatever for?”
A nervous giggle left her lips. "I'm not following you. Perhaps you should come right out and tell me what arrangement you're alluding to."
The seconds ticked away on the mantle clock, sounding like a thousand crickets had breached the room. "Yes, I'm trying to get to the point of all this." He stopped pacing and held onto the back of his chair. "Here's the way of it. You need to earn enough money to return to your grandfather in Maine. I, on the other hand, need a son.”
Her brow furrowed.
“I'm offering you freedom in the long run. In exchange, I want to have a child with you, preferably, a male.” The words rushed forth. “However, if you’re delivered of a female, I’ll love and accept her just the same.”
An audible gasp fell from her lips. "Oh, but I can’t possibly accept a proposal of marriage from a virtual stranger. It would be most unfair to both―”
Good, God, she thinks I’m offering marriage? Marriage? “No, that is, you misunderstood my proposal. I’m not suggesting we marry.”
Her eyes widened.
Walking to the table with a tentative gait, he picked up the envelope. “More money than you could earn in a lifetime is in here. I'm offering half now and the other half when the contract has been met."
She looked at the envelope and then at him, her tone icy. “How much is in the envelope?"
"Five thousand dollars."
"Five thousand now and five thousand the day the child is born." Tossing the envelope on the table for effect, he continued. "It's yours right now should you accept my offer."
A rapid pulse took flight in a tiny blue vein in her neck.
"If you're not offering marriage, in what capacity will I live in the manor?"
"You'll be free to go home after the child is born. Until then, you'll have complete freedom to do whatever you choose."
Her eyes narrowed, and sparked.
"You said you wished to return to your grandfather one day. That day can be sooner than you think if you sign the contract my barrister drafted." He nodded toward the envelope. "It's also in there."
Her face paled. "Horace Masterson, the kindly gentleman who promised me safety until I returned to Maine?"
"Yes, the money guarantees your security, and your safety.” Walking around the chair, he settled into it and leaned forward. “At the very least, read the contract. I'm sure you'll agree the terms protect you.”
Her lower lip quivered, and he wondered if she might cry. Christ, what would he do if she launched into a crying jag? He couldn't bear up under her tears.
"You seem quite well prepared.” Her gaze took him apart inch by inch. "I commend your valiant efforts to keep your father's threats at bay."
"I can’t find fault with your reaction at the onset, but surely you see the practicality on both sides?” After drawing in a lungful of air, he added, “You’ll be free to go about your life when it’s over in a manner envied by most women. I’ll acquire an heir to Stafford House, and my father will end his relentless pursuit.”
“Oh, please enlighten me." She pinned him with a lethal glare. "Should I decide to engage in your well-contrived scheme, how do you propose we bring the end result to fruition?"
"It's quite simple,” he said, aware the temperature in the room leaped to an unbearable degree. "You spend three nights in my bedchamber, the specific nights will be chosen by Madelina. She’s prepared―”
“Who is she?”
“A healer, a woman who dabbles in tonics, remedies. She’s already prepared several concoctions.” He dug for the instructions in the pocket of his vest. “You must follow her recommendations when it comes to diet and tinctures for several weeks. She’s highly skilled, claims certain remedies will enhance the possibility of producing a male child. I'll expect you to follow her recommendations if you accept my offer.”
She shook her head. "I must applaud your tenacity and the immense preparation you expended in carrying out your duplicitous plot."
“There is nothing duplicitous about this. I’ve told you everything.” She looked away from him, but not before he saw the sadness return to her eyes again, and something he didn’t recognize. Indecision? Hatred? An interminable amount of time passed before he dared speak again. “Think of it as a business arrangement."
She turned to him with a look that said she would love to sever him at the knees with a saber.
"I’d like your decision in two days. You’ll find me in my study two nights from now. If you decline, you can remain at Stafford House until you’ve earned enough money to return to Maine. Do you have any questions?"
"Yes," she said with calm composure. "Why me? There must be countless women who’d agree to bear your child.”
"I thought I made that clear. You possess undeniable beauty, have obviously been well educated, and you have the physical attributes, height and stature, I hope are passed on to our child.” He shrugged. "It's that simple."
Flushed with anger, the green eyes darkened. "Will that be all?"
"Yes," he replied, finding it difficult to look at her. "Unless you have additional questions."
"I do not." She rose from the chair, her tone cold. "I believe I understand perfectly well.” Offering a false curtsy, she added, "If you'll excuse me, sir."
The moment her footsteps faded from the room, Derek unfurled himself from the chair and headed for the liquor cabinet, his only thought to down a double dram.
* * *Thanks so much for reading,
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