The Wrong Wife(8)

By: Eileen Wilks

Cassie squawked and grabbed her brother's arm.

"—but that's because I trusted you to take care of her. I'm not talking about money here, Gideon."

Ryan knew better, Gideon thought with a hot flick of resentment. At least Ryan ought to know how little Gideon had to offer a woman, other than money. The man had no business insisting on that damned ambiguous "more." But he was insisting. And he was Gideon's best friend, maybe his only real friend. Gideon made up his mind suddenly.

Ryan wouldn't like it at all if he knew just what Gideon intended to give Cassie, other than financial support. Gideon didn't plan on enlightening him. "You're right. We should give this marriage a try, at least for a time."

"For a time?" Ryan's eyes narrowed. "Just what does that mean?"

"Yeah," Cassie said, an identical expression on her narrower, more feminine face. "What does that mean?"

"Six months."

Cassie threw up her hands. "You're crazy."

"A year," Ryan said. "Anything less than a year would strike me as insincere."

"All right." Gideon nodded. They wouldn't have to live together the entire time, after all. "At the end of the year, if we're not both convinced the marriage is working out, I can still settle some funds on her."

"Have either of you noticed that I'm right here in the room with you?" Cassie demanded. "Do you two really think I'm going to let you settle my future as if I were a property Gideon didn't want to buy, but is considering leasing? Come on, Ryan, you're supposed to be so hot at real estate. Can't you bargain Gideon up to a two-year lease? And shouldn't we talk about who's responsible for necessary maintenance and repairs? Like dental work. And health insurance. Usually the owner carries structural insurance—I guess that would translate as major medical—while the leaser is responsible for—"

"Come here," Ryan said, and grabbed Cassie's arm. He pulled her, protesting, over by the window, where the two of them carried on another discussion, this time mostly in whispers. But Gideon had excellent hearing. He caught a few stray words, enough to realize that Ryan knew something about Cassie that she wanted kept secret.

Gideon's disillusionment deepened. What could that mean, except that Cassie did, indeed, want his money, and didn't want him to know? Gideon didn't blame Ryan. He'd known, even yesterday when he was drunk, that Ryan was doing his damnedest to manipulate the two of them into this marriage. But Ryan only wanted what was best for his sister. That was how it should be. Brothers, especially older brothers, should look out for their younger sisters … or brothers.

Gideon felt an old, old ache.

Cassie kept darting wary glances at Gideon. Finally she nodded.

"Good," Ryan said, looking relieved. "It's settled, then." He glanced around, noticed the table full of breakfast dishes, and his face lit up. "I haven't eaten yet." He reached for one of the chairs next to the table.

Cassie pushed his hand off the chair. "Nothing is settled, and you're not staying."

"There's plenty of food," Ryan pointed out.

"I'll take it from here. Goodbye, brother." She pushed on his chest.

He laughed.

Their tussle was brief. Cassie won it handily in spite of her size, but that had more to do with whatever she hissed in his ear than with brute strength. Ryan sent a last, longing glance at the table of food before he gave up and went to the door, saying he'd see them both back in Dallas. "I'll even call Mom for you," he told Cassie with a grin. "Let her know what you've been up to."

As soon as the door closed behind Ryan, Gideon expected Cassie to launch into whatever harangue she'd been saving up for him. Instead, she stood there next to the door, looking uncertain—an experience that must have been as disconcerting for her as it was for him. Cassie had never been awkward around him before.

It was her own fault if she felt awkward now, he told himself. "Come on," he said. "Let's eat before we try to settle anything else."

They sat opposite each other at the white-draped table. Silence stretched out between them for another minute while Gideon pretended to want the eggs he methodically ate. Cassie spent the whole minute buttering a croissant and not looking at him. Sunshine gleamed off the ornate handle of the butter knife, and off the smooth simplicity of her bright hair. "Gideon," she said at last, setting down the mangled croissant and meeting his eyes. "Gideon, listen to me. I did not marry you because I want, or need, your money."

"Don't." Anger roiled in his stomach, and he set down his fork. "Dammit, Cassie, I know how you grew up, how little money there was and how hard your mother worked to keep a roof over your heads. I can understand you wanting more. God knows I understand that. And you've always been impulsive, so maybe the big surprise is that you've never run off to Vegas before now. Just don't pretend. Dammit, don't pretend!"

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