The Wrong Wife(9)

By: Eileen Wilks

Her mouth turned down. "Oh, Gideon. Do you really think so little of women, or yourself? Do you think the only reason a woman would marry you is for your money?"

Her misunderstanding bothered him. He stood. "I'm not down on women, Cassie. The way I see it, men and women are both programmed by our biologies, but the operating systems aren't the same. For a woman, a successful mating is one that provides her and her children with a strong provider. In today's world that translates into money. That isn't wrong, it's just nature at work."

"A 'successful mating,'" she repeated slowly, taking the napkin from her lap and laying it on the table. "And just what constitutes a 'successful mating' in terms of a man's biology?"

He frowned. He didn't seem to be getting his point across. Her expression made him think of a pot about to boil. "Evolution has geared men toward multiple sexual partners, since that spreads a man's seed—"

She shoved back from the table so hard it wobbled, spilling coffee from Gideon's cup onto the white cloth. "I guess that means last night was thoroughly unsuccessful for both our biologies, then, wasn't it? That," she flung at him as she started to pace, "is the most disgusting theory I've ever heard. Of all the self-serving justifications for infidelity, that just about tops the list."

His eyes followed her as she paced. He'd always thought leprechauns would move the way Cassie did—quick, supple, efficient. "Calm down. I'm not promoting infidelity. Animals are victims of their biology. People aren't. A man who lacks the willpower to keep his word isn't much of a man. After all, men require fidelity from their wives so we'll know whose children we're raising. We have to be prepared to reciprocate."

She paused in front of the window. The hard, white light admitted by the gauzy sheers surrounded her like an edgy aura. "Oh, you do, huh?"

He nodded. "It's only fair. A woman wants to know her man comes only to her for sex, because sex is a powerful tool for keeping a male contented. A contented male is more likely to provide well for his family. Women—"

She screeched in rage.

"—are notoriously emotional about this sort of thing," he finished, eyeing her cautiously. "But it is really quite logical."

"I am not emotional." She glared at him, her hands fisted at her sides. "I am reasonable. Calm. Logical. And I'm going to very reasonably explain to you why all your stupid logic is a pile of horse manure."

The smile that broke over his face surprised them both. "I won't be bored," he murmured, mostly to himself. "Whatever else can be said about this marriage we've gotten ourselves into for the next year, it won't be boring."

She folded her arms across her chest. "We are not staying married."

Oh, she was an O'Grady, all right. Stubborn to the core. But he knew her weakness. "Not indefinitely," he agreed. "But I've no intention of destroying my friendship with Ryan by kicking his little sister out the day after the wedding. Even if that is what you want."

"Ryan wouldn't…" She drifted off uncertainly.

"You know him better than that. Ryan's as good a friend as a man can have, but his first loyalty is to his family, not to me. How do you think he'll react if he thinks I've treated you badly?" He started toward her. "It's not as if I'd blame him, either. I do remember parts of yesterday afternoon and evening, Cassie. I know what you expect from our bargain. You've had to spend too much of your time in dead-end jobs instead of painting." He stopped in front of her. "I told you I'd give you everything you wanted if you would marry me. I'm not a man to go back on my word."

Gideon studied the stubborn set of her jaw and decided he didn't mind her obstinacy. He'd never objected to a challenge.

"I've no intention of letting you go back on your word, either." He moved closer.

She didn't back away, but she wanted to. He could tell by the nervous way her tongue flicked over her lips. "Stop smiling like that," she ordered.

"Like what?"

"Like a cat waiting outside a mouse hole."

His smile broadened. "As I recall, you always liked cats."

"What does that have to do with—" Her breath caught audibly when he moved even closer.

Too close. Gideon stopped with a bare inch between their bodies. If he'd thought to dominate her, to intimidate her with the sheer force of his size, into his way of thinking, that thought fled at the feeling he saw flash across her face.

Desire. Innocent, but not simple, tangled up as it was in the shifting colors of those changeable eyes as she looked up at him, defiant, wary—and obviously unaware of what she'd just given away. And if Cassie's breath had caught with sudden, unwelcome arousal at his nearness, Gideon lost his breath altogether.

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