“I don’t need money,” she said.
“Do you need my signature, then, or a ride to a clinic? You’re welcome to recuperate here afterwards.” Damn, he was bungling this.
This time, she turned to face him, golden eyes blazing. “If you knew me at all, then you wouldn’t offer to do either of those things. I’m keeping the baby. It’s your choice if you want to be in her or his life. I won’t stand in the way.”
“What do your parents have to say about that?”
Her gaze left his, a telling sign. “Only my brother and sister-in-law know. But my parents would be happy—babies are a blessing to them.”
“Except for the ones who aren’t wanted,” he said.
“Especially the ones who aren’t wanted,” she snapped.
He held up his hands. “Got it. Blessing and all that, but what about your marital status?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when everyone finds out.”
But he did know what to do. He knew exactly how to alleviate her worries while helping his own family, the employees at Wintersea Castle, and the entire damn village of Geimhreadh who depended on the tourism it supplied. The village was shrinking every year; the lure of bigger towns like Inverness too much for the newest working generation to resist.
“Would you consider marriage?”
She gave him a look. “Who would I marry?”
“You?” Bella choked out. “We can’t even stand to be around each other for more than five minutes.”
Liam cocked his head to one side. “I seem to recall endless amounts of time where we couldn’t stand to be apart from the other.”
She blushed. He would remind her of their weekend together. “Big deal. That’s not a reason to get married.”
He laughed. “It’s a very big deal. I’d rather not have a sex-free marriage.”
“Because you plan to be faithful,” she shot back, sarcasm heavily lacing her words.
His dark eyes narrowed. “Once I make a vow, then I hold to it.”
She almost cringed. Both of them were victims of less-than-faithful fiancés. Both of them had experienced humiliation and heartache.
“I believe you,” she said, and he relaxed a bit. “But the fact remains that were opposites in almost every other way. I don’t see how a marriage can last on that.”
Liam’s jaw worked. “I don’t believe in divorce.”
“I don’t either… except if my husband were abusive.”
He crossed the room, then, coming to stand in front of her. He took her hand, rubbing his thumb across the top of it. “I would never lay a hand on you.”
“There are other ways to be abusive, like with words or abandonment.”
Touching her cheek with his free hand, he said, “You have my word that I won’t leave you somewhere to rot while I live a separate life. As for the other, I can’t promise not to have debates with you.”
“Is that your marriage proposal?” she asked, completely at sea now. She was adrift. Maybe even losing her mind, because in every imaginary situation, this conversation had never happened.
“I could promise you hearts and flowers, but I’d rather be truthful,” he said and her heart, the traitor, sank.
She wasn’t sure why she would want hearts and flowers from him. Actually, she did want hearts and flowers from him if they stood for love. Then again, Peter had promised her not only hearts and flowers, but also the moon and the stars. He had made promise after promise, and then never delivered.
Only, Liam was most definitely not Peter. He wasn’t like anyone she knew. But he was, above all things, truthful. That was a good starting point for—she swallowed—marriage.
Oh gosh. Was she really contemplating marriage? Was she seriously going to take the easy way out and take him up on his offer? Okay, so marriage wasn’t easy to begin with, and for them, she knew it be would extra hard.
Maybe they would… She closed her eyes.
“I’m thinking,” she said softly.
“Take all the time you need.”
She smiled ruefully and opened her eyes. “Time is not on our side.”
“Shall we talk over dinner?” he asked, as if their future wasn’t going to be drastically altered. As if it wasn’t already altered.
“I’m not sure.” Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she bit her lip. “I could eat a little something, but I’m exhausted.”
“Ah,” he said, linking her arm through his. “Shall I take care of you this evening?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug, hating the helpless, yet grateful feeling that came over her as he led her out of his office and up a flight of stairs. “Honestly, Liam, I can’t think straight right now.”
He opened the second door on the left and gestured for her to go inside. “Have a lie down on this very comfortable bed while I speak to the staff.”
Staff. Could their differences be more obvious? She looked around the room of his Edinburgh townhome. It looked like something out of Royalty Living, with the ginormous canopy bed and gilt ceiling. “I didn’t grow up with staff.” The bed called to her, and she sank onto it with a thick sigh. “Or a room like this.”
“Neither did I,” he murmured as she lay down on her side. He drew a cashmere throw over her, and she snuggled into the soft material. “I grew up in far more modest accommodations.”
She blinked up at him. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you a duke?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Should I call you something other than Liam?” she asked.
He gently ran a hand over her head. “My duchess can call me whatever she likes.”
His duchess. She could barely wrap her mind around the title. Exhaustion had hit her hard. Her whirlwind traveling to Scotland more than her pregnant body could handle at the moment.
Her shoes. She needed to take off her shoes. No sooner than she’d thought the words, he’d begun taking off her boots and rubbing the arches of her feet. She moaned.
“Feels soooo good.”
“Go to sleep, Bella,” Liam said, but she noticed he didn’t stop rubbing her feet.
Her eyes slid closed.
As soon as Bella’s breathing evened out, Liam stopped massaging her feet and adjusted the blanket covering her. He stared at her, wondering if she truly were the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. The woman who was to have his child.