She couldn't argue with that. It was only fair. It was also galling as hell. "I can't afford to pay you anything." Her stiff dignity crumpled with her next words. "And you have plenty enough money as it is, so I don't know why you'd want more from me."
"It's not money I want from you."
"Then what? You've got your law practice and the Slash-C is doing good business and you had the house renovated–so what could you possibly want from me?"
The question hung in the air between them for a moment, then turned around and slapped her in the face, stinging her cheeks with heat. What Dave had once wanted from her was her heart and body and soul. Which she had been more than willing to give him. And then he'd given them all back.
"Peace of mind and something to look forward to."
Still smarting from her own thoughts, she snapped, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, peace of mind means I want to know what you're up to. Why would you suddenly want to marry?"
She looked away, pulling the inside of her cheek in between her back teeth. "I can't tell you. Not until we're married."
He closed his eyes as if in pain. "Is that because I can't testify against you if we're married?"
"I hadn't thought of that, but that's true, too."
"Matty, for God's sake–I'm a lawyer, an officer of the court, I can't–"
"I know! That's why I'm not telling you. I don't want to bother your conscience."
"Thank you for your consideration, but–"
"You don't have to get all sarcastic, Currick. It's not anything terrible. It's getting around a technicality. Honest." She looked up into his face, letting hurt show at his lack of faith. How much of it was real, she didn't want to know herself. "I wouldn't ask you to do something that was really wrong."
The taut line of his shoulders eased. He believed her, and knowing that almost led her into saying something more–probably something stupid. But when he opened his mouth and that lightly mocking tone came out, the danger of confiding in him was over in a flash.
"So you can assure me that this matter would never be handled by, oh, say, the FBI, the CIA, or the Wyoming Bureau of Investigation?"
"Of course not. You know me better than that."
He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "All right. All right. I can see that's the best I'm going to get as far as peace of mind where you're concerned. But at least give me something to look forward to."
"Like what?" Suspicion weighted her question and narrowed her eyes.
To her annoyance, his eyes abruptly lightened–he was enjoying himself. "Let me think... " He stared out toward where snow-tipped peaks met blue sky. "Got it. We breed Brandeis to that mare of Gates's that Henry bought out from under me a while back for the next three years and I get any foals."
"What? No way. I'm not having Juno in foal to Brandeis three years running, and I'm sure as hell not giving you three of her foals. We'll breed them once, and if there's a foal, we'll toss for it."
"We breed them until there's a foal I want."
"We breed them until there's a live foal, and you get it."
He stuck out his hand again. After an instant's hesitation, she grasped it, gave it one firm shake and released it before his long fingers even finished wrapping around hers.
"I'll look into what we have to do to get a license and such–"
"It's customary for the man to do that. Besides," he went on as she prepared to protest, "I can do it when I'm at the county courthouse on business and save you a trip to Jefferson."
She did have better things to do than traipse to the county seat. As it was, she'd have to be back here in Knighton getting her official residence changed as quickly as possible. "Okay, as long as you do it as soon as possible. I don't want any delays."
"We'll get married as fast as I can put it together."
"That's it then. I'll expect to hear from you soon."
"Aren't you forgetting something? How about the rest of the wedding arrangements?"
"Wed–uh, arrangements?" Odd how she'd talked of getting married so calmly, but her tongue stuck on "wedding." "I thought...uh, I thought we'd get married before whatever judge we can find."
"That might cause questions, what with both of us being from such old Knighton families. And I don't suppose questions being asked about this marriage right from the start is something you want, is it? Now a church–"
"No. No church. I, uh, I don't have time to be messing around with a fancy we– uh, with a church and all."
"No, I suppose not. Just seems a shame to open ourselves up to questions..."
"Then you take care of the arrangements." As soon as she said them, she felt a sinking certainty that those were exactly the words he'd been angling for.
"Okay. I will."
Oh, hell, she had more important things to worry about than whatever Dave Currick had in mind. "Fine. No church, and nothing fancy, understand?"
"Nothing fancy," he agreed.
* * * *
He'd always been that way about one Matilda Jeanette Brennan, and it looked as if he always would be.
From the time she'd toddled after him declaring, "Me fish, too!", through the years of her being his best rough and tumble buddy, to the stunning recognition that, not only was there something to this boy-girl stuff, but the girl was Matty of all people, and into that all too brief period when making a life with her had seemed inevitable.
Sitting on his porch, Dave Currick rocked back on the rear legs of the worn wooden chair that had just the right balance for this maneuver and put one booted foot on the railing as he contemplated the half moon.
So what the hell was she up to now?
She was in trouble, that was for sure. He just thanked God she'd turned to him. It slid a warmth under his ribcage to know she had come to him. A warmth that had been missing from his life for a long time. Six years.
If he'd been asked twenty-four hours ago who he thought Matty would turn to if she was in trouble, he'd have said Cal Ruskoff, that hand Henry Brennan had hired out of nowhere a couple years back. He'd have hated the taste of the words in his mouth and he'd have hated the truth of them even more, but he'd have said them.
In the few times he'd seen Matty and Ruskoff together–at Henry's funeral or on some errand in town these past weeks–he'd seen the easy way she treated Ruskoff, like she was comfortable with him, at home with him, trusted him. Like he was a man she would turn to if she was in trouble. It was quite a contrast to the arctic shoulder she'd been giving Dave.
Still, she'd come to him.
She needed him. God, it felt good to know that.
When she'd first said she had to get married, fears had knotted his stomach so tight he didn't think he could talk. But she'd been so clearly incensed that he might think she was pregnant, and even more clearly at sea about his hints that Ruskoff or someone else might have broken her heart, that the knot had quickly eased.
There'd been a time he could have asked Matty straight out what the problem was. Hell, he'd have known without her saying. Now, all he could do was guess that it had to be something with the Flying W.
Under Matty's grandfather, the spread was as good acre for acre as any around. After Grandpa Jules' death it had slipped, even though Matty's grandmother had done her best to keep after her brother-in-law, Henry Brennan. But Grams had died nearly four years ago now. Left on his own, Henry had never kept the spread in top order, and there'd been rumblings that the elderly man had really run it down in the last year of his life. Dave had tried to check out the situation through his contacts, with no luck. He'd stopped by twice–and both times Henry Brennan had met him with a shotgun and cutting comments about how Dave Currick wasn't welcomed on Brennan land.
He'd known Matty's great-uncle must have left a legal tangle–one he'd hoped she would ask him to help her with. Instead, she
'd turned immediately to newcomer Taylor Anne Larsen. Another lesson to him not to hope.
But this afternoon's amazing encounter with Matty changed everything.
Maybe there was hope after all. Not of really getting married. No, she'd back out of this crazy idea soon enough. He'd seen her leap into things too many times not to know that this had been one of her classic spur-of-the-moment decisions.
But even if she called in the morning and said to forget the whole thing, it gave him an opening back into her life. And that gave him hope.
Hope after all the years, months, days–and especially all the nights–of convincing himself he had no hope.
Two days after proposing to Dave Currick, Matty exited the bank with more speed than finesse. Who would have thought that a little thing like changing her official residence could cause such a hubbub.
It had been a snap at the post office–fill out a form and hand it in before anyone could comment. And she would check with Taylor on the other official documents during their meeting later.
But when Matty announced her soon-to-be address for the bank's records, Joyce Arbedick had looked up as if a firecracker had gone off under her chair, her eyes bugging out and her mouth formed into a perfect "O" while visions of sin obviously danced in her head.
"We're getting married," Matty had said in her own defense.
And that's when things really got crazy. All of a sudden she was surrounded, as she sat at the assistant manager's desk, by customers, tellers and probably passersby dragged in from the street by the noise, all wishing her happiness and a long marriage, and saying they'd always known she and Dave would end up together.
Matty shuddered now in the quiet of her truck parked alongside the bank, trying to reconstruct what had happened.
This morning, Taylor had called while Matty was out watering and feeding the four ailing cows in the barn corral, and had left a message saying she'd like to see her this afternoon. Taylor didn't say what about, but from her rather stilted voice, it wasn't good news.
Course, Matty couldn't remember the last time any news had been good.
And that realization brought all the reasons for this temporary marriage rushing back to the front of her mind.
Each time over these past two days that she'd just about decided to call Dave and tell him the whole thing was a joke–another of her impulses–some reminder of what was at stake, of what would happen if she didn't take this step rushed in. Just like this call from Taylor.
Matty had called back and left a message that she'd be in to see Taylor about three, then she'd finished some chores, showered and changed, gathered her paperwork and headed into town to take care of address changes. The sooner she did, the sooner she could apply for the grant. Maybe she could ask Taylor to start–
Matty gasped–not sure if the knock on the truck window next to her head or Dave's voice practically in her ear made her jolt so.
"Good Lord! Don't sneak up on someone that way!" Her heart felt as if it could beat right through her ribs.
"I didn't sneak up." Dave gestured for her to open the window, and his voice lowered along with the window. "You were so busy chewing on your thumbnail you would have been down to your knuckle before you noticed anyone coming."
Matty hid her ragged nail by balling her hand into a fist. Just like Dave to remind her any time she slipped back into that childhood bad habit. "What do you want?"
She blinked, while heat bloomed in her chest like a time-elapse movie of a flower on high speed. Then it sizzled through nerve-endings alive with the memory of what it meant to be wanted by Dave.
"Why?" It came out a croak.
"We have time to get blood tests before your three o'clock with Taylor."
Her mind sent an immediate cease-and-desist order to all nerve-endings, but it took the heat a while to evaporate. Was he so tight with Taylor that he knew her entire schedule? But that wasn't the question Matty voiced. "Blood tests?"
"You're not still afraid of needles are you?"
"Of course not," she lied. "But you didn't tell me we had an appointment."
"It's not a real appointment. When I mentioned to Doc you were in town this afternoon, he said he could fit us in if we came by before three."
"How'd you know–"
"Taylor called me, too."
"That wasn't what I was going to ask," she said with a fair assumption of dignity. "I wondered how you knew I'd come into town early."
"Elementary, my dear." He opened the truck door and gestured for her to get out. He had on old jeans, worn to a faded blue that she knew would be as soft as their color. The material molded around the muscled length of his thighs, and other lengths she forced her gaze away from. "I tried to call the Flying W, got no answer. I deduced you'd headed into town early."
"That's kind of a stretch, Sherlock," she scoffed as they headed up the block toward the small clinic that served the south end of Lewis County and the north end of Clark County.
"Ah, but it was confirmed about fifteen minutes ago when all three lines on my office phone lit up simultaneously and two friends stopped by my office."
"How does that confirm I'd come to town?"
"They'd all heard about your public announcement at the bank that we're getting married. I thought a notice in the paper was how these things are done. Guess the bridegroom's the last to know."
She halted before they stepped up to the sidewalk and met his eyes. She'd been avoiding doing too much of that, because Dave's darkly fringed hazel eyes had always packed quite a wallop where she was concerned. But she owed him a direct look while she said this.
"I'm sorry, Dave. I didn't mean for it to get out this way, but when I told Joyce my new address and she goggled at me like we'd not only be living in sin but had invented the concept, I blurted it out. But I should have warned you somehow. I'm sorry they blindsided you like that."
He looked back at her for a long moment. His expression gradually shifted from surprise to disconcerting assessment. Then one side of his mouth lifted in a wry smile. "No problem. I'm getting used to having things sprung on me this week. Compared to an offer of marriage this was pretty minor. Besides, you did tell me that public appearances were part of this package deal."
"Yeah, I did," she said, feeling lightened. She started along the sidewalk, but Dave's hand on her arm stopped her.
"There's one thing I wondered about, Matty,"
"You're awfully eager to get your address changed aren't you? Not even waiting until we're married."
"Just want to keep things straight," she mumbled. "C'mon, let's go get those blood tests. Doc won't wait all day."
* * * *
"You don't have to walk me all the way inside," Matty protested twenty minutes later as Dave ushered her into Taylor Larsen's reception area. "I'm perfectly all right and you can go about your business now."
"You still look pale."
She glared at him. "I am not pale and I wasn't going to faint. I was fine until you shoved my head down between my knees. Then I was dizzy."
Dizziness that had nothing at all to do with the sensation of his hand against the back of her neck, slowly stroking into her hair, then down inside the collar of her sweater.
"Uh-huh," he murmured, falsely soothing. "Hey, Lisa."
"Dave, Matty." The tone of voice used by Lisa Currick–Dave's younger sister and Taylor's office manager–immediately announced she was miffed. "I hear congratulations are in order."
Matty's heart sank under a load of guilt. She hadn't given a thought to how this might affect Lisa.
Some still clucked about Lisa having moved into her own small house on the edge of town when she'd returned from New York City a few years back instead of living on the ranch. But Matty had figured that had to do with Lisa's need for independence, not any bad blood between the siblings. The gap of six years between brother and sister had meant they were
n't buddies as kids, not the way she and Dave had been buddies. But the Currick family was close and loyal.
"Or maybe," Lisa was going on. "I should make that I-told-you-so's. Half the town's been telling me they always knew you two would get together if you'd stop squabbling long enough to listen to your pheromones. They all seemed to think that as your sister, I'd already know about this."
Of course Lisa was hurt that she hadn't been told first. Especially since she didn't know this wasn't going to be a real marriage.
"Oh, Lisa, I'm so sorry–but, honestly, it's not what you think–"
"Sorry, Lees," Dave interrupted firmly at the same time he squeezed so tightly around Matty's waist that she almost yelped. "We'd intended to tell you first. Word kind of leaked out about a half hour ago, and you know how this town is. I'll explain it all to you over dinner in Jefferson, how's that? You have time before class tonight?"
"Not tonight. Tomorrow." She waved toward an interior door, clearly well on her way to being mollified. "Taylor's waiting for you both, so go in."
"Both of us? Wait a minute, why would Taylor–"
Dave interrupted again. "Tell Lisa thanks for the congratulations, Matty, and let's go in." He gave Taylor's office door a quick knock before opening it.
"Thanks, Lisa," she said hurriedly as he guided her into the inner office, "but I don't see why you–"
"Hello, Matty, David." With an air of formality, Taylor stood behind her desk. "I'm glad you both could come this afternoon to discuss this."
Her gesture indicated documents on her desk. They bore Dave's letterhead.
Taylor sat, looking at the pages as she flipped through them, and they took the twin chairs across the desk from her. "You're right, Matty, there isn't much to discuss. Dave did an excellent job drafting it."
"Drafting what?" Matty asked.
"I took the liberty of sending this to Taylor yesterday, so she could look it over on your behalf beforehand. Thought that would be better than springing it on you, Taylor," he added, looking across the desk.
"I appreciate that. It–"
Matty had had enough of the lawyerly courtesies. Spacing each word, she demanded, "What is it?"
Dave gave a fair portrayal of surprise that she would have to ask, but when he turned to her she recognized the glint in his eyes. "Our prenuptial agreement, dear."