He ran his hand through his hair. “Because the night they were shot, Quent dropped by my office to collect some tickets to a Senators game at the Corel Centre. I believe the hit man was staking out my office and followed him home, thinking he was me. My address isn’t listed in the phone book. Neither was Quent’s.”
Hope nodded and felt her throat constrict with pain for him, for the children, and for Quent and Carrie, who’d had their lives cut short. “I’m so sorry. I sympathize with your situation, but I’m not sure that I can marry you.”
“Are you involved with someone?”
Hope nearly choked. Not as of 7:00 p.m. this evening. “No, it’s not that.”
“Then, what is it?”
She lifted her chin. He was dangling her deepest, darkest desire in front of her with all the scruples of a proverbial devil negotiating the price of a soul. One simple I do and she’d be a mother and Quinn’s wife. “Have you considered that you may not be doing these children any favors by marrying someone when your heart isn’t in it?” She held his gaze. “Maybe you’re wrong about all this, and one day you’ll decide this marriage was a mistake and put these children through the trauma of a divorce.” She couldn’t bring herself to add just as he’d thought their engagement was a mistake, but the words hung in unspoken accusation between them.
His knuckles grazed her jaw. Another touch, another tender, persuasive assault on her senses. His mouth twisted into a lopsided grin that carved a shallow dimple in his left cheek. A very sexy dimple. “Hit men are results-oriented people, Hope, and I’m not willing to take a chance on being wrong. I don’t want you to love me. I don’t deserve it. But Quent married Carrie for life and I wouldn’t dishonor their commitment to each other and what they wanted for their children by offering you less.”
Damn him. She took a silent inventory of his rugged profile and the jagged plates of his muscled chest, her conscience rebelling at the idea of some mercenary killer wanting to destroy him. If he managed to survive, and that sounded like a big if, he’d stay married to her out of guilt. For the children’s sake. But the thought of exchanging vows with him might destroy her. It had taken her years to get over him.
She darted a glance at Kyle and Melanie and her reluctance to agree to this crazy proposal melted in a rush of compassion. Kyle had abandoned his snack and was industriously hammering a block at the play workbench. Melanie was fast asleep at the picnic table, a graham cracker still clutched in her hand. How on earth was she supposed to resist those two darlings? “If I agreed, I’d be putting my life in danger, as well.”
“Yes,” Quinn stated unequivocally. “But Tom and I, my partner Oliver, and my friend, Gord Swenson, plan to exercise every precaution possible to keep our location under wraps. No phone calls that can be traced or tapped, no record on a computer disk. I’m driving a car that belongs to another friend of Gord’s. We don’t even want your family to know.” He paused, his Adam’s apple working in his lean throat. “As soon as the children have bonded with you, I’m going to leave. I have to do whatever I can to help the police determine whoever is responsible for this. I just can’t leave the kids immediately— I’m the only familiar face they have at the moment and I have to think of their needs first.”
And that, Hope realized, was how they were going to get through this. By thinking of the children and putting Kyle’s and Melanie’s needs first. She threaded her fingers through his and squeezed. For an instant he seemed surprised by her touch, then his fingers twined tightly with hers in a bond of shared understanding. Tears gathered in her eyes.
But their joined hands, and the tingling warmth generated by the contact of their palms made her very much aware that marriage had a physical as well as an emotional commitment.
Her cheeks heated. “Just one more question,” she said, determined to make things clear right from the beginning. “Where do you plan on sleeping while you’re here?”
“On the couch, Mrs. McClure. Sex is the last thing on my mind, but we might have to get Tom’s legal opinion on whether or not the marriage needs to be consummated.”
Hope blushed from her toes to her scalp at the idea of asking her brother-in-law such a question.
“Or maybe not.” His fingers tightened a notch around hers, protective and familiar. “Does this mean you’ll marry me?”
She tilted her head back to look up at him and gave him a tremulous smile. “Yes.”
The glow that warmed his eyes created a stirring of response in her belly. Reminded her of a week long ago when being Quinn McClure’s fiancée had brought her such happiness and eventually pain.
“Thank you. You won’t have to worry about money. I’ve got savings, investments, a condo and a business I own half of. Not to mention life insurance and the trust fund Quent and Carrie set up for the kids. It should be enough.”
“I’m not worried. I can manage on my own if need be.”
She saw the tension loosen in the planes of his face. “Carrie would have approved of you. Quent always did.”
Her voice caught in her throat. “I’ll love the children like they’re my own flesh and blood.”
“I know you will.”
“I know. Me, too.” His arms came around her then, the solid feel of his hard body bittersweet. But Hope nestled her cheek against his breastbone where she could hear the reassuring pound of his heartbeat and hung on tightly. For better or worse. Till death they would part.
SHE’D SAID YES. Relief settled through Quinn as they carried Melanie and Kyle upstairs to the bedrooms that Hope used for the children who occasionally required night care or spent a few days with her when their parents were away on business trips.
Kyle held fast in his arms, Quinn had feelings he’d never expected to have tumble through him as he watched Hope expertly tuck Melanie into a picket-fence bed in a yellow bedroom where butterflies fluttered from one tulip bloom to another on the walls. Observing Hope with Melanie was like being given a glimpse of what could have been. Mel didn’t awaken or utter a peep as Hope moved quietly in the room, closing the blinds, switching on a night light on the dresser. Then she rummaged through Melanie’s bag.
“Is this all you brought?” she whispered, gesturing at the bag.
Quinn nodded. He only had a small bag for each child. “The kids were whisked out of the house pretty fast. Someone else packed their things. I didn’t want to risk returning in case it was under surveillance,” he explained quietly as he cradled Kyle’s head against his chest. He hoped the toddler would doze off in his arms.
“It doesn’t matter. We can buy more clothes and I’ve got toys and books galore.” She gave him a reassuring smile and pulled from the bag a floppyeared bunny, its brown fur noticeably worn, that she tucked into bed with Melanie.
When she moved to put Mel’s clothes in a drawer, Quinn stopped her. “It would be better if you didn’t. We may have to leave in a hurry.”
Hope looked stricken as the meaning of his words seemed to seep into her. Abandoning the bag, she hovered over the slumbering child and ever-so-gently cupped one of Mel’s curls. “Good night, little СКАЧАТЬ