Bound By Marriage(6)

By: Nalini Singh


Two of the sheepdogs ran past, then returned to circle her before deciding to lead the way. The interruption was precisely what she’d needed. Taking a deep, deep breath of the crisp morning air, she focused her attention on the untamed splendor of the land around her—tussock-covered hills dotted with sheep, hardy wildflowers more beautiful than any cultured garden and over it all, an endless blue sky.

Mind and body calmed. This was right. This land was where she was meant to be—everything in her knew it. She could never walk away.

No matter what the cost.

The dogs barked and raced off. She followed at a more leisurely pace, her eye taking in the west barn in the distance. It was the single structure to have survived the catastrophic fire twenty-five years ago. Her father had been one of those who’d come to fight the flames that night, but no one had been able to stop the conflagration. Like a beast let loose from some infernal region, it had devoured almost everything…and everyone.

Having reached the old building, she decided to push open the door and look around, but that was before she saw who was inside. “Mrs. C. said you were in the other barn.”

Gabe slammed one hay bale on top of another, sending dust sparkling into the invading sunlight. “So eager to see me?” Pulling off his work gloves, he thrust them into the back pocket of his jeans.

She refused to let him see how much he’d rattled her. “What are you doing here?”

And why did her eyes keep going to the sweat-slick muscles of his arms, revealed by the short sleeves of his T-shirt?

“We needed to create some space in here and everyone else was busy.”

“Oh.” She scuffed the floor with her shoe. “Can I ask you something?”

His answer was a grunt as he shrugged into the sheepskin jacket he’d apparently thrown off earlier. Taking that as a yes, she carried on. “After the wedding sometime, maybe tomorrow or the day after…would you mind if we visited my parents?” They were buried next to each other in the Randall family cemetery, only about a sixty-minute drive away. Although Angel was a huge spread, the family quarters had been built relatively close to those of the adjoining station.

“Of course I don’t mind.” His face was all harsh masculine lines when he glanced at her, but she thought she heard a buried thread of unexpected gentleness.

His understanding probably wouldn’t last through her next request but she was going to start this marriage as she meant to go on—she would not let Gabriel Dumont crush either her mind or her spirit. “I want to visit your family, too.”

Silence.

“I don’t have any memories of them, but I know Michael was four, Angelica even younger.” No response. She pushed on. “They were your family. We should remember them.”

“Fine.” It was a flat sound but at least he’d agreed. “You ready for the wedding?” He nodded at the door.

She tugged it open, her palm sweaty in spite of the low temperature. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Stepping out, they began to walk toward the main house.

“We’re not going to have time for a honeymoon.”

“I understand. That’s okay.” It was no lie. The idea of being with Gabe 24/7 in

some romantic resort tied her stomach up into a thousand knots. She was about to say something else when her attention was caught by a dark blue sedan pulling up to the house. It was followed by an almost identical vehicle in deep green. “Did you invite some other people?”

“That’s David Reese, my lawyer.” He picked up the pace. “The other car will be Phil Snell, your lawyer.”

“Mine?” She nearly had to jog to keep up with him.

“If you sign the pre-nup without independent legal advice, you could challenge it down the road.”

“Oh.”

They didn’t speak the rest of the way. Both lawyers were nice enough at first glance and when Phil took her aside for a private chat, Jess found him to be a very sharp operator. But of course he would be—Gabriel wanted this airtight.

“If you and Mr. Dumont divorce, you’ll have no claim on the land,” Phil summarized. “But you’ll get a substantial monetary settlement dependent on the duration of the marriage. It’s an extremely good deal. Your fiancé is a generous man.”

This had never been about money. It was about her heritage, about promises, about loyalty. “Where do I sign?”

Afterward, she walked up to her bedroom, something inexplicably heavy and painful inside of her. It seemed wrong that her wedding day should start like this, with a discussion of money and assets. But what else had she expected? Angel Station was Gabe’s heartbeat—as his future wife, she fell somewhere far, far lower on his list of priorities.

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