A Convenient Proposal(10)

“That is part of the contract.” The squeak in her voice told him more than she would want him to know.

Griff lowered his eyes to meet her gaze. “Last I knew, getting pregnant required a certain level of, uh, affectionate display.”

She actually stood there pondering the issue, while he did his best to hide a smile.

“Well, yes,” she finally agreed. “But it’s just sex. No…no—”

“Feelings?” What in the hell was just sex?

“Emotions,” she corrected. “No emotions involved. We’re not planning a life together. This is strictly an engagement of convenience.”

“Right.” He lowered the shades on the porch and held the door for her to exit. Her “rules” sent a chill down his spine. But he’d worry about that after they got past the first hurdle—meeting his family.

As they walked along the path to the other side of the island, Igor darted into the brush under the tall trees, always checking back after a few moments to be sure they hadn’t gotten lost. At least for now, he didn’t seem to object to another male’s presence on the journey.

“Does your friend who owns the island come down fairly often?” Griff slipped his fingers into the handle of her heavier bag. After a short tussle, she conceded and let him carry it.

“Never. The main house is old and falling apart. Only the cottage is livable, but it’s not big enough for more than two people.”

“So your friend has a family?”

An annoyed glance flashed his way. “You’re being nosy, aren’t you?”

He tilted his head to the side. “I call it making polite conversation.”

“The kind I—your adoring fiancée—will have to parry at all these parties we’ll be attending?”


She nodded. “I’ll be prepared.”

But she hadn’t, he noticed, answered the question.

As the path led them past the ruined glory of the island mansion, Griff stopped for a moment to stare. “That place doesn’t need a caretaker—it wouldn’t provide shelter for a drenched rat. So why does your friend want someone living on this pile of sand?”

“I think I told you last night—to warn strangers away. To watch out for the wildlife, pick up trash and take care of the cottage. That sort of thing.”

From the high point where the house stood, the path began a gentle slope down toward the water. Griff cupped his free hand loosely around Arden’s elbow, just in case.

“Considering I didn’t see a trace of you until I’d been here several hours,” he said, “and then you let me spend the night, I have to say I’m wondering about your job performance.”

During the long pause following his comment, they stepped out from under the trees onto the beach, barely a hundred yards from the dock where his rented speedboat bobbed on the waves.

Then Arden put the dog’s bag on the ground, unzipped a pocket on the side and withdrew a cell phone, which she held up in front of his face. “My performance, as you put it, consists of calling the police. I didn’t expect to have visitors after dark last night, so I didn’t take the phone with me to watch the fireworks. Most people come during the day to sunbathe and swim.”

Griff raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Drug runners and smugglers might appreciate having a base on a small, out-of-the-way place like this. And they like working in the dark.”

“That’s why the Coast Guard patrols at random times every day. That’s why there are motion detectors posted in the ruins and throughout the woods, linked to a monitoring system in the cottage and an alarm on the mainland. I don’t know how you bypassed them.”

“Beginner’s luck—I walked along the shore. Your friend must have deep pockets.”

“Plus…” Ignoring his comment, she bent to Igor’s kit again, and this time came up with a shiny, businesslike pistol. “I do know how to use this, should the occasion arise.”

“Whoa. That’s not your standard hunting rifle.” He held his hands in the air as he backed up a step. “You didn’t have that at the beach last night, either. Did you bring it along today in case Igor couldn’t keep me under control?”

“I thought I would put it in storage while I traveled. There’s no sense leaving a weapon for someone to find.”

“Good point.” Griff blew out a long breath. “You’re quite a puzzle, Arden Burke. And very good at avoiding questions.”

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