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I couldn’t have heard correctly.
“What?” I asked when my brain caught up.
“Forget the money,” he repeated, “the only payment I will accept from you is marriage.” I gaped at him some more.
“But…but I don’t even know you!” I protested, standing dumbfounded before him. He made no reply, just watched me calmly, his piercing gray eyes unwavering. Those eyes sent shivers through me. Shoring up my faltering brain cells, I took a breath and asked, “Why?”
That got a reaction, albeit a small one. Glancing away for the merest second, he combed his fingers through his short black hair. Obviously not one to shy from uncomfortable questions (was it really that disturbing a query? What else did he expect?), he looked me in the eye again before answering.
“You’ve impressed me,” he said simply.
Despite its redundancy, I couldn’t help gaping at him again.
“What?” I gasped, then nearly smacked myself. I’m not usually so repetitive. Then again, it’s not every day a mercenary proposes marriage to me.
His mouth twitched and I narrowed my eyes at him. I’d impressed him? I couldn’t think how, my life was perfectly ordinary. At least it had been, until my globe-trotting brother got himself grabbed by hostiles in some third world country. My unexceptional life is what prompted me to look elsewhere for help, who was standing in my kitchen making impossible statements like “marry me.” I would do anything for my little brother, but marry someone little more than a stranger to me?
I took another breath, deeper this time, and spread my fingers on the counter in front of me. My hands are like the rest of me, slender and unadorned, with short, unpainted nails. My veins show blue through my pale skin, unmarred by calluses or scars. In comparison, his hands were large, tanned and strong, with little white scars everywhere and calluses on his palms.
He moved, shifting to sit on a stool across the counter from me. I watched his work-roughened hands as I put my thoughts into words.
“If you’re serious—”
“I’m perfectly serious,” he interrupted, prompting my eyes up to his once more.
“If you’re serious,” I persevered, wondering what the heck I was doing, “you’ll have to answer a few questions.” I pointed my finger at him, stopping him as he opened his mouth to respond.
“Truthfully.” He considered me thoughtfully.
“I promise to answer all of your questions truthfully.” Now it was my turn to regard him, judging the veracity of that declaration. Shrugging mentally, I gave up on that endeavor and decided to jump right in, hoping that something might change his mind.
“Do you have or have you ever had any sexually transmitted diseases?”
“No,” he said solemnly. “I’ve always been careful and I’m not promiscuous.” Well. Points for him, I guess.
“Are you romantically or sexually involved with anyone else?” He frowned at me; I just raised my eyebrows.
“No,” he grumbled. Another point.
“Would you promise never to abuse me physically, mentally, or emotionally?”
His face grew taut and fierce as he growled, “I do promise.” Going great guns now, though he looked less and less happy. But I wanted him unhappy with his proposition…right?
“Would you promise never to cheat on me?”
Even gravellier, “I promise.” Good answer.
“When would you expect this wedding to occur?” Surely not in the day before he left to retrieve my brother.
“This afternoon.” I clutched the counter, just barely refraining from shouting another
“WHAT?!” at him. My thoughts were frantic as I tried to make sense of his reply. Didn’t you need a special license to get married on such short notice? What about blood tests? What about rings? Who would officiate? What about my dress? Was I actually considering this?