Desire by Design
Author:Paula Altenburg

chapter Fourteen


Marion pushed open the front door of City Hall and stepped out into blazing sunlight behind Eve. “Bob’s not above the law,” she said. “He can’t just go around imploding heritage sites because it suits his purposes.”

Eve tried to calm herself. “I don’t want to be a part of your strategy for putting Bob in his place.” Not if it meant hurting Matt.

“Yet, you came off looking great,” Marion said. “You’ll get your name—and your credentials—in the press. That’ll be a big help to you when the Province buys the old Hall from the Municipality. We’re going to restore it.” Eve could hear the satisfaction in the other woman’s voice. “You’ll be invited to submit a tender—I’ll see that you are. And Bob’s still going to get his new Hall. It just won’t be on the site he wants. What’s not to like?”

Eve went hot, then cold. This explained Matt’s silence in the car on their way home from her parents’ place. Somehow he had known about this, even though she hadn’t, which meant he’d heard it from Bob. Not only had he gotten dragged to the police station over what they’d classified as a domestic dispute because of her, but Matt probably thought she was a liar now, too. And there was no guarantee she’d even be given the work.

“You might as well get used to this.” Marion’s tone was kind, although her words were heartless. “This is business, and Bob took his chances. Besides, I wouldn’t be too sure this isn’t exactly what he wanted.”

Marion was undoubtedly right. It wouldn’t surprise Eve at all if Bob had planned things this way. His underhandedness knew no bounds.

Marion got into a waiting taxi, giving Eve a friendly wave as she rode off.

Eve had no idea what to do next, only that she wasn’t yet ready to face Matt. Suddenly, he was there, anyway, behind her on the steps, his expression intent. Determined.

And focused on her.

She knew that look all too well. Right away, it put her on the defensive.

“I had to tell the truth in there,” she said, cutting him off before he could get a word in. “I’m sorry if I made things more difficult for your uncle, but Bob doesn’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong.”

“I don’t think you need to feel too sorry for Uncle Bob,” Matt said, although his expression never altered. He looked around at the busy street. “But there’s something I need to talk to you about, and this isn’t exactly private.”

If he planned to lecture her, she wasn’t ready to hear it. “I’ve got to go. I have to get to a job site.”

“Eve, wait. I—”

She scurried down the stairs but didn’t get farther than the gated street entry to the front courtyard before a shrill whistle rent the air.

“Hey, baby! Bring some of that over here!”

Eve froze.

Matt?

There were a few reporters milling around on the front steps of the Hall, as well as a camera crew and several tourists, not to mention the people out on the street. Yet that had come from Matt?

“Never mind. I’ll come and get it myself,” he said, jogging past the press and down the steps toward her. The next thing she knew he’d hoisted her over his shoulder, planting his hand on her backside to keep her short skirt in place. Her briefcase went flying.

“Put me down,” she hissed, all the blood rushing to her head in her upside-down position. She tried to brush her hair out of her eyes.

Matt stooped and grabbed her briefcase. “This is the only thing you seem to understand,” he said. “But I’ve got to say, I thought you were better than this.” He steadily ignored the laughter as he carried her back up the steps. “I never realized you were such a coward that you’d spend the rest of your life afraid to try again.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said. She must look really stupid hanging over Matt’s shoulder with his hand patting her—

“I think you do.” Someone opened the door for him and he thanked him or her politely, as if it were natural to be hauling a woman around like a sack of cement. He climbed the stairs to the second floor and searched for an empty room. When he found one, he shut the door behind them and lowered her to her feet. He set her briefcase on a desk.

“I know you aren’t crazy about the idea of a long-term commitment, but I think there’s something you should know. Sooner or later, I’m going to marry you. I’ll give you plenty of time to get used to the idea, but once you do, I want you to understand that this marriage is going to last a whole lot longer than two weeks. So don’t even think about sending the gifts back.”

He was serious.

“I drive you crazy,” she said, refusing to believe it. He couldn’t have thought this through. “I’m always going to say or do exactly what I think. I’ll never make you happy.”

“I don’t want to be happy. I want you.” He was grinning like a nut. “I never got to finish the list of things I like about you. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Professional. I like your honesty. I like the way you always do what you believe is right, even if it turns out you’re wrong. And personal. I love you. All of you, even the irritating bits, and not just those skimpy little panties you leave hanging all over the place. I want to marry you, Eve. I want to have babies with you.”

He’d said he loved her.

Her heartstrings were now strung so tight there was a real possibility she might be having a heart attack. Then, the rest of what he’d said registered.

Babies. Matt definitely hadn’t thought this through.

“It’s hard enough to get out of a mistake when there are just two people involved,” she pointed out. “It would be impossible if there were children. We’d be stuck with each other forever.”

“‘Stuck’ isn’t the word I’d use, but I’m willing to take that chance. I know the whole idea of marriage scares you, but I’ll be right there with you, helping you out.”

“What if we change?” she asked, wanting to make sure he knew what he was getting himself into, afraid to let herself hope too much. “What if in five years’ time we aren’t the same people anymore?”

“Of course we won’t be the same people,” he said. “People grow and change. But we’ll be growing and changing together.”

She thought about what marriage to Matt would mean. It meant children—which she thought she’d enjoy—although now that he’d met her family and seen the gene pool, he couldn’t possibly want more than one or two. It meant starting her career over and moving to Toronto, because she couldn’t see the practical sense in having him be the one to try and move a whole business to Nova Scotia.

It meant loving him as much as he loved her. Or, possibly, even a little bit more, because Eve suddenly realized something. If Matt had been the one to ask her to move to a small island in the South Pacific, she’d have followed him gladly. She’d follow him anywhere. Yet here she was, pushing him away when what she should be doing was hanging on as tight as she possibly could.

She could do commitment. She’d simply needed to find the right person to trust with her heart.

“Are you going to make me live in a house made of glass and steel?” she asked.

“I don’t think putting you in a glass house is such a good idea,” he replied, a slow smile easing his intensity. “I was picturing something like an old farmhouse we could renovate together. Something with lots of room for a homegrown soccer team.”

Okay, so maybe he would want more than one or two children—and it didn’t make sense to waste all that space he was talking about, did it?

Eve buried herself in his arms.

“In that case,” she said, “I’m all yours. I love you, too, Matt.”

“If you love me, you’re going to have to stop referring to marriage as a mistake,” he said, seconds before his lips closed over hers. “Because personally, I’ve never made a mistake that feels this right.”

And Eve, safely cocooned as she was in the warmth and love of his embrace, found herself inclined to agree.