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His long awaited bride, p.16

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 16


His Long-Awaited Bride

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  Lucy’s grin stretched across her wrinkled face. “I’m sure he has a good reason for his absence.”

  “If he does, he’s not sharing it with me,” she grumbled. “And that bothers you.”

  “Of course it does! I love the man and he hasn’t even asked me out on an official date!”

  “Why do you suppose he hasn’t?”

  Marissa threw up her hands and began to pace the small kitchen. “Who knows?”

  “Tell me this.” Lucy folded her hands in her lap. “When he told you that he wanted you all to himself, didn’t you have doubts?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “And if he’d asked you out on one of your so-called official dates, what would you have said?”

  “No,” she reluctantly admitted.

  “There’s your answer. He isn’t any more fond of rejection than you are. He’s probably waiting until he’s sure you won’t refuse.”

  “I won’t.”

  “You and I both know that, but he doesn’t.”

  “He would if he’d stick around long enough to find out. Maybe he’s not interested anymore. Changed his mind…”

  Lucy clicked her tongue, as if instructing a slow student. “I’m going to spell this out because you’re missing my point. You’re a take-charge sort, otherwise you wouldn’t be where you are today. Am I right?”

  Marissa thought for a second. “I suppose so.”

  “In other words, you’ve gone after what you wanted.”

  “Yes,” she said slowly, trying to follow Lucy’s train of thought.

  “Now, compare that woman to the one who sat back in college and waited for Justin to notice her. The same woman is still waiting for him to make the next move when it’s her turn.”

  “Ah.” Understanding dawned. “I see your point.”

  “Exactly. You normally take the initiative when it comes to other parts of your life, yet when he’s involved, you don’t. Why not?”

  Lucy was right. “I don’t know,” Marissa admitted sheepishly. “I guess I thought it was his place.”

  “Maybe in my century but not in yours,” Lucy said firmly. “Young women have more gumption, more interest in controlling their destinies. You, my dear, have a choice. You can either keep waiting like you have been and waste more time, or you can go after the prize.”

  Lucy’s eyes twinkled. “Frankly, if I had a prize like Justin in my sights, I wouldn’t be dilly-dallying on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with an old woman.”

  Seize the moment. Hadn’t that been Abby’s advice? Hadn’t Marissa learned anything from the Newlands?

  “I’ll do it.” Her heart skipped an excited beat. “Will you watch Toby for me? And if I’m not back by dinnertime, can you give him his food? The bag is—”

  Lucy brushed aside her instructions. “I know where his food is. Don’t worry about Toby, and, by all means, don’t hurry back. I wouldn’t mind having a personal heating pad to warm my toes tonight if you two care to warm a few things of your own.”

  Marissa’s face reddened. “Lucy!”

  “I’m serious. Harriet and I will take good care of your dog. I’ll expect you, on the other hand, to take good care of Justin.” She motioned to the door. “Now, run along. I’d like to have a few minutes of peace and quiet before Harriet gets back and talks my ear off.”

  Marissa giggled. “I will.”

  “Don’t forget to spritz on your delicious perfume before you go.”

  “I won’t.”

  “And, Marissa?” As she paused at the threshold, Lucy added, “For your information, a man who plants a tree intends to be around long enough to watch it grow.”


  MARISSA did more than spritz on her favorite perfume. She changed into her above-the-knee, slim-fitting khaki skirt and a sleeveless yellow blouse, replaced her flip-flops with leather sandals, brushed her hair until it hung perfectly on her shoulders and clipped a pearl necklace around her throat.

  She felt as nervous as she had when she’d sat for her state nursing boards. Her personal future was as uncertain now as her professional future had been then. In both situations, failure spelled disaster. And also in both, failure simply wasn’t an acceptable option.

  Justin didn’t answer her knock, but she heard a rhythmic pounding coming from the garage. The side door stood open, so she meandered toward it in the hope of finding him.

  He was there, his back to her as he stood over something, with a hammer in his hand and muttering about crooked nails. Sawdust covered the cement floor and the scent of freshly cut lumber hung in the air. He positioned another nail with his left hand—his weaker hand—and she heard it land on the floor with a metallic ping. Another round of muttered curses followed as he selected another nail from the small paper bag resting on a nearby overturned bucket.

  His poor, battered hands now made sense.

  “Hi,” she said from the doorway.

  He swivelled toward her, eyes wide with surprise. “Marissa. What are you doing here?”

  “I haven’t seen you for a while and thought I’d drop by.” She walked across the double-car garage. “What are you doing?”

  He laid the hammer on the workbench and moved just enough to block her view. “Working on a project with Jared.”

  “May I see?”

  “It isn’t finished.”

  “I don’t mind.”

  “It’s for you.” He sounded both nervous and proud.

  “For me? Then I have to see it, finished or not.” She sidestepped him and found a four-foot garden planter designed as a mini wishing well. It was exactly what she’d dreamed of setting in her backyard flower bed.

  Realizing what he’d done, what he’d put himself through for her, took her breath away. “Oh, Justin.”

  “Do you like it? Jared helped me cut boards and so forth, but it’s my first project and it’s not quite square for some reason.”

  “It’s beautiful.”

  “There are a few crooked nails, well, more than a few, and a couple of—”

  Marissa flung one arm around his neck and touched his mouth with her fingers. “It’s beautiful. Perfect. And I won’t allow you to say otherwise.”

  He grinned. “Okay. Then you really like it?”

  “Absolutely. How did you know I wanted one?”

  “Lucy gave me the idea.”

  She laughed. “Lucy has given you a lot of ideas lately, hasn’t she?”

  “They’ve all been good.”

  She couldn’t argue with that. “I’m completely awed by what you’ve done.”

  “It’s only a planter, not the Taj Mahal.”

  “I don’t care. You’ve worked on something so difficult and so physically challenging just for me. You could have done something horrible to yourself in the process, like sawn off a finger or crushed a bone or—”

  “I may not have my former grip, but I’m not completely inept,” he chided.

  “But power tools? You could have drilled a hole in your hand and then where would your medical career be?”

  He rested his hands on her hips and pulled her close. “I didn’t, and my career is just fine. You worry too much.”

  “Probably,” she admitted.

  “Just to reassure you, I won’t be taking up carpentry as a regular hobby. In future, I’m going to leave woodworking to the experts.”

  “Do that.” A thought occurred to her. “This is why I haven’t seen you all week, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah. It’s taken longer to finish than I thought it would. My patients kept me busier than usual, too, so I didn’t get out here as often as I’d planned.”

  Her doubts vanished and she felt foolish for entertaining them in the first place.

  His hands tightened around her. “You imagined all the wrong sort of things, didn’t you?”

  She hated to admit it aloud. “I’d thought you’d changed your mind about us.”

  “I hadn’t.” He eyed her carefully. “If that was running through yo
ur mind, why did you come today? To catch me with another woman?”

  “No!” Horrified by his accusation, she broke out of his embrace. “Not that. Not that at all.”

  “Then why?”

  Her opportunity was knocking. She drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “When you brought the tree, I realized something. I had never gone on a date with the man I love. I waited all week for you to ask me, but you were busy and we hardly saw each other.”

  “I’m sorry, Mari. If I’d known…”

  “It’s okay. Anyway, Abby once told me to seize the moment. So, rather than wait for you to make the first move, I chose to make it instead, which is why I came.”

  She paused. His expression was inscrutable, but she’d waded too far into this particular pool to quit now.

  “Justin,” she began formally, “would you care to join me for dinner at D’Angelo’s tonight?”

  “You love me?”

  “Yes,” she said honestly.

  “You’re one hundred percent certain?”

  Apparently she wasn’t the only one who’d suffered doubts. “One hundred percent,” she repeated. “But I didn’t say it to coerce you or make you feel obligated—”

  “I don’t,” he interrupted. “The only pressure I felt was when I thought time was running out. I’ve never been so nervous in all my life as when I thought you and Pendleton would tie the knot.”

  “You were?”

  “Sure. I couldn’t imagine a life without you.”

  “Oh, Justin,” she murmured. “I can’t, either. But before we get too carried away, I need you to be sure of something. If you only want us to be together because we’ve drifted into a comfortable routine and I’m convenient, then you’re doing this for the wrong reasons. We both deserve more than that.”

  “I haven’t drifted into anything. I love you, Mari. I never thought I’d say those words again, much less mean them, but I do.”

  “Oh, Justin.” She sniffled, hardly able to believe she was hearing those words from a man who’d once thought that love didn’t exist.

  “You aren’t going to cry, are you?”

  She shook her head and brushed the tears of joy out of her eyes.

  “As for a comfortable routine or you being convenient,” he continued, “those words don’t describe the way I think of you. ‘Exciting’ and ‘sexy’ spring to mind.”

  “Sexy?” Her face warmed. “Really?”

  “Yeah. Imagine a seduction so breathtaking and physically exhausting that you’ll need a week to recover, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

  The garage echoed with his sincerity.

  Once again, she found herself plastered to his chest, her head nestled under his chin. She couldn’t imagine a better place to be. “Oh, Justin. We’ve both been so blind and foolish.”

  “And stubborn.”

  “And stubborn,” she agreed.

  “We’ve corrected our mistakes. That’s all that matters.”

  She raised her head. “Actually, we still have an unresolved issue. Are we going on a date tonight or not?”

  “Well, now,” he drawled. “I’m all for your idea about D’Angelo’s, as long as you’re willing to go along with mine afterward.”

  “Which is?”

  “How does a seduction sound?”

  A tingle skittered down her spine and her pulse pounded hard in her throat. “It sounds perfect. On second thought, I vote we skip my suggestion and go straight to yours.”

  “A woman after my own heart.” He pressed fervent kisses along her neck. “Your place or mine?”

  Her knees would have given out if he hadn’t been holding her. “I’ve always wanted to sleep in a four-poster bed.”

  “I hate to disappoint you, but we won’t be sleeping.” He swung her up in his arms. “At least, not for a very long time.”

  “Promises, promises,” she teased.

  He stopped at the door. “Toby. What have you done with him?”

  “He’s having a sleepover at Lucy’s. At her request, I might add.”

  He chuckled. “I should have known.”

  “Know this,” she grumbled at the delay. “You’re taking entirely too long and talking far too much.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  Her second thoughts ceased to exist. This was what she wanted. This was what she’d dreamed of. This was what felt more right than anything she’d ever done.

  Before she knew it, he was lowering her down his body ever so slowly, as if he wanted to raise her anticipation to fever pitch.

  His plan worked because clothes instantly flew in every direction. Arms and legs tangled as they tumbled onto the comforter-covered mattress. His mouth worked magic, first on her mouth, then as it trailed down her neck to her breasts, teasing, tasting, and tormenting her until she thought she’d go crazy.

  His hands—what gifted hands!—stroked and caressed until her skin felt on fire.

  But the experience wasn’t one-sided. Her mouth was as eager as his; her hands were equally busy exploring the planes of his hard body.

  Her curves fit his hollows like interlocking puzzle pieces as she accepted him. Intense pleasure swept her to heights she’d never reached, until she thought she’d shatter into a thousand pieces. This was more than a few sparks. This was an all-consuming fire.

  Later—she couldn’t say how much later—the blaze died down and left her feeling both replete and exhausted, just as he’d promised. The empty spot in her heart had been filled to overflowing.

  “What’s the sigh for?” he asked, as he pulled the sheet over them.

  “Relief. I’d have missed out on all this if I’d ignored Abby’s advice and played it safe.”

  “Maybe not. I’d have worn you down eventually.”

  “You sound sure of yourself.”

  “Of course. I almost let you slip through my fingers. I wasn’t going to risk it again. I would have volunteered to be a sperm donor if you’d asked.”

  “No kidding?”

  “Yeah, but only as a last resort. I wanted my ring on your finger first.”

  “Staking your territory?” she teased.

  “Making you mine,” he corrected. “I love you, Mari, which is why we’re going to have the shortest engagement in history.”

  Arguing seemed pointless. Even if she’d wanted to, she was too relaxed to care. “How long?”

  “A week.”

  “We won’t be able to have a honeymoon,” she warned. “I have to give a month’s notice if I want time off.”

  “Then we’ll go when we can. We’ve waited too long to be together as it is.”

  He was right. They had nothing to gain by postponing the start of their life together and everything to lose. Lonnie’s legacy to them was a simple, timeless truth.

  Life was too short to waste a single moment.

  ISBN: 978-1-4603-5922-8


  First North American Publication 2007

  Copyright © 2007 by Jessica Matthews

  All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

  ® and TM are trademarks of the publisher. Trademarks indicated with ® are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Canadian Trade Marks Office and in other countries.




  Jessica Matthews, His Long-Awaited Bride



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