Cassidy Amberg has known but one love in her life: the irrepressible, charming Brian Hayward. Though she coped well enough since he married another woman and moved away, she never forgot. He returns home after an accident robs him of both mobility and wife.
Though Brian isn’t quite back on his feet, he buys a home too big to manage from a wheelchair. Cassidy sees her old friend needs help, and offers as much as she can.
When Brian proposes a marriage-of-convenience, she must dig deep within for the grace to accept.
At first they manage well enough as friends, but gradually Brian recognizes he loves his in-name-only wife. Cassidy struggles with realizing she never fell out of love with him. Only when Brian dares push their platonic marriage beyond the boundaries, do they find a chance at permanent happiness together.
Cassidy's heart kept beating. She felt air flowing in and out of her lungs, which told her she was alive. Otherwise everything, body, soul and spirit, came to a crashing stop. For a moment, she thought she'd heard I love you. Marry me.
But that was only more self-deception. She'd heard marriage, not love.
Incredibly, Brian continued speaking. The stammer he'd conquered as a boy returned, a sure sign of extreme stress.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm offering you a sort of m-marriage, in name. With the idea of m-making a home. I don't see too many options here. My company is taking off nice, so it needs a h-hundred percent of my attention. So does therapy. Between 'em I'm working too many hours most days to keep up with the house too. Business is good and getting better. I already make almost what I did in Arizona." He shook his dark head. "It's not what you deserve. The externals are the whole package. A nice home and a pretty g-good lifestyle."
"Why now? Why me?"
"Now? Because as much as it goes against the grain to admit it, I can't cope in this chair like I hoped. And why not you?" He gave her a questioning frown. "I've always thought of you as m-my friend. You're a faithful Christian. A good person."
"So let me understand this. You want to marry for a helper and that's all?" Time to nip this in the bud. No more euphemisms.
"Um." He hesitated. "Basically, yeah."
She sat back, her heart thumping so erratically she feared he'd see its motion under her lightweight shirt. No love here. Only a friendly, calm business proposition. If she was over him, why did this hurt? Alarm bells rang in her brain. Marriage to Haywire? Even without the L-word, his proposal sounded a siren song. As brazen as the serpent to Eve, he'd just handed Cassidy her greatest temptation.
Yet this was more about Brian than Cassidy. He'd gone out of his mind, of course. Since that was true, her feelings were neither here nor there. All she must do is decline politely, kindly. His emotions were off line on this, so he wouldn't be hurt.
Look at him; you'd think he was pitching me a web site design at cost.
"Wow. I know you're an old-fashioned type of guy, but this is -- Victorian. Have you been reading old novels? Guys don't marry for a caregiver anymore. Not since women got the vote." With satisfaction, she heard gentle, firm dismissal in her voice. "I thought you might have matured a little. What in the world do you think I am?"
"Huh?" Whatever answer he expected, this wasn't it. The confusion in his eyes betrayed a hint of deeper feelings at which she couldn't guess. Cassidy could have laughed aloud. He was a businessman, so of course he'd prepared for some degree of difficulty. He knew his idea was unconventional; of course she wouldn't accept it at once. A competent businessman would have his sales pitch carefully thought out. But she was not playing according to the rules. His surprised eyebrows showed that not only did he not understand her indignation, he hadn't anticipated it so he could prepare a rebuttal.
Phooey on your canned responses, Hayward.