I didn’t understand what he was saying. On the one hand, it sounded like a compliment to my boring way of life. On the other…what did bridal magazines have to do with anything?
“I have a proposition for you.”
But before he could say another word, the waiter arrived once again, this time with our dinners. It smelled heavenly, all that butter. My mouth was watering as the waiter set it in front of me, but Miles didn’t even look at his. He was watching me from across the table, his expression thoughtful as I politely thanked the waiter.
When the waiter was gone, I focused on Miles for a minute.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“I was,” he said, “but I’ve sort of lost my appetite.”
“You don’t like the food? I’m sure he could bring you something else.”
“It’s not the food.” He cleared his throat, his eyes moving over me again. I felt like he was searching for something in my face, some secret that would make it easier for him to do whatever it was he was trying to do. But he clearly wasn’t finding that secret.
He picked up his fork, stabbed a shrimp, and bit the tail. He seemed to like it because he slid the rest into his mouth a minute later. But then he put down his fork and watched me eat. And that was nerve wracking, so I put my fork down and met his eyes.
“I find it’s easier to just get it done with, like tearing a Band-Aid from your skin with one quick rip,” I said.
“You’re probably right. I don’t think I was this nervous when I was called to the principal’s office.”
“I’m sure that happened a lot.”
“More often than my mother would have liked.” He smiled, the memory clouding his eyes for a second. Then he focused on me again. “So, I guess I should just say it. I want you to marry me.”
Now that was the last thing I expected to hear. I stared at him for a long second, thinking I must have misunderstood him. But then he said it again.
“I know it sounds really crazy. But I need a wife, and you fit the bill perfectly—at least on paper. And now that we’ve had a few minutes to talk, I don’t see anything that might change that.”
“You want to marry me?”
He shrugged. “I have my reasons.”
“That’s not good enough.”
Now I was staring at him, the one trying to see something that was clearly not there. I thought that maybe it was a joke, and he would laugh at any second. Or that he was mentally unbalanced, and there would be some sort of telltale sign there, somewhere. But I didn’t see any of that. I saw a very handsome man staring back at me, nothing but honesty in his expression.
“Do you have to have a reason to do it?”
He hesitated, but then he reached across the table and took my hand.
“I’m not insane, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just have something I need to do. And, in order to do it, I need to have a wife who is nothing like the women I normally date. I need someone who is steady, intelligent, and patient. Someone who will show the world that I’m ready to settle down and live the sort of respectable life my father has always wanted for me. I need someone who…well, someone just like you.”
“But you know nothing about me.”
“I know enough. I know your parents died in a car accident when you were five. You were in the car, too, but you only had minor injuries. You came to Waco to live with your father’s aunts on his father’s side of the family. You grew up in the same home they did, attended a decent public school down the street from your home, and you were valedictorian of your graduating class. I know you lived at home throughout your years at college, that you were on the honor roll all four years, and you graduated summa cum laude. I also know that your current position at Starbuck’s is the only job you ever held.”
“And all that tells you who I am?”
He shrugged. “It tells me that you have the stable background that will impress the people I need to impress.”
I wanted to reach across the table and grab him by the throat, make him tell me what the hell was going on. Instead, I got up and turned to leave. Miles followed, grabbing my arm and pulling me hard against his chest, one hand on my arm, the other on snaking around my waist.
“I will pay you a million dollars,” he whispered against my ear. “And I’ll pay off what your aunts owe the bank on their house.”
I stiffened even as my heart jumped for joy. A million dollars. That would set my aunts up for life. I could hire a personal assistant, have someone with them twenty-four seven. And I could do all the things I’d always wanted to do: go to New York with Lisa, travel to Europe, and see my parents’ graves in Houston.