Emergency Engagement (Love Emergency)

By: Samanthe Beck

“They’ll never know about the lie. They live two hundred miles away. They only know what we tell them. Shortly after the New Year we’ll reach the conclusion we make better friends than soul mates and call off the engagement. Simple and civilized.”

“And then your parents will go back to worrying about you.”

“No. They’ll realize I’m okay, I just mistook rekindled childhood affection and”—no point pretending it wasn’t there—“grown-up lust for more.”

Dark blonde eyebrows arched. “Lust?”

“I got smacked in the head, Savannah, but I’m a long way from dead, which is what a man would have to be not to lust after you.” As compliments went, it lacked poetry and subtlety, but her cheeks turned a lust-inspiring shade of pink anyway, and he imagined them turning the same color while her lips formed his name and her body trembled against his.

Careful, Montgomery. Acknowledging the lust was arguably strategic. Acting on it? Not. Time to sell her on this from another angle. “Look, I don’t know the details of your situation, but I get the impression your family developed some expectations about your personal life, and having a fiancé for the next little while might save you some grief. Wouldn’t you like to get through the holidays without awkward explanations? Especially the kind guaranteed to trigger the parental meddling instincts?”

She scrubbed the heels of her hands over her eyes, which reminded him of the trips she’d made down the hall to the garbage chute last night. She hadn’t gotten much sleep.

“Yes, the notion holds some appeal, but”—she blinked and focused on him again—“it’s dishonest.”

“A victimless lie to serve a higher good. Everyone deserves a happy holiday. If we do this, we all win. You avoid a bunch of unwanted matchmaking efforts. I avoid the same. Your parents get to fixate on Sinclair’s love life instead of yours, and my parents get some long-overdue peace of mind.”

“One question.”

He fought back a grin of triumph. The question was a formality. He had her. “Shoot.”

“Should they be worried you’re so trapped in the pain of the past, you’re closed off to the future?”

A knee-jerk denial leaped to his lips, but her unwavering, don’t-bullshit-me stare had him biting it back. He’d celebrated victory too soon. Knowing this, he answered carefully. “I’ve come to terms with the past. Maybe not willingly, or gracefully, but ultimately I didn’t have much choice. As for the future, I take it as it comes, because, again, I don’t have much choice. I prefer to concentrate on the present.”

Those blue eyes softened with sympathy, but her mouth turned down in a slight frown. “That doesn’t really answer my question.”

Did she expect him to say he had the capacity to put his heart and soul on the line again, risk standing by helplessly while whatever power controlled such things ripped everything he loved away from him? He did not. He’d lived through it once, and just in case time tried to heal the wound, his job presented him with regular reminders of how fragile all those hopes and dreams were when pitted against the whims of fate. Did that qualify him as closed off, or sane? Probably both. Either way, he knew his limits.

“I’m fine. Nobody needs to worry about me.”

She continued to nibble her lower lip as she considered him, and he momentarily lost himself in a fantasy of sinking his teeth into the soft swell.

“Hey, Montgomery. West told me you decided to spend Thanksgiving with me.”

He looked over to see a young, spike-haired orderly at the door with a wheelchair.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Isaiah. My plans didn’t include you.”

The kid grinned, showing off a gold-crowned front tooth, and pushed the chair into the room. “Planned or not, I’m here to wheel your sorry ass to radiology.”

Savannah took a couple steps toward the door. “I’ll just…ah…go out to the waiting room.”

Shit. Would she tell their families the truth? He tried to read her intentions as Isaiah cornered him with the chair, but he didn’t know her well enough to guess what the little crinkle between her eyebrows meant. Assuming he enjoyed any advantage whatsoever, now seemed like the time to press it.

“Don’t leave me at this guy’s mercy.” He took a seat in the wheelchair and hit her with the best pleading look he could manage. “He’s lost more patients in these hallways than I can count.”

Isaiah rolled his eyes. “Two lousy patients in four years, and they were both deliberate runners. Neither was my fault.”

“One ended up in the morgue.”

“Don’t make it sound like that. Dude got lost, not dead—”

“God knows where I’ll end up.” Beau angled his chin down and looked up at her from under his eyelashes. “Chaperone me. There’s a waiting area in radiology.”

“I don’t want to break any rules…” Her uncertain gaze shifted to Isaiah.

The orderly shrugged. “No rule against accompanying this wussy-assed whiner to X-ray. Personally, I think this has nothing to do with me, or my supposedly lost patients. More like big bad Beau Montgomery freaks out at the thought of sticking his noggin in a tube. But if it calms his nerves to have a pretty lady holding his sweaty hand while he waits, that’s okay with me.”

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