“You made her one extremely happy woman when you and Dana announced your engagement.”
Jared opened his mouth to say that he and Dana hadn’t exactly announced anything. His mother had assumed the wrong thing and jumped to conclusions.
“I think your engagement actually gave her a new lease on life, a determination to handle whatever it is the doctor is going to tell her today and for that I’m grateful. You know how depressed she got the last time she had to undergo all those treatments. If that’s the verdict again, and God knows I hope it’s not, she’ll be more of a fighter because she knows she has an important day to look forward to.”
“The day you and Dana will marry,” James Westmoreland said smiling. “That’s all she talked about last night and this morning. She likes Dana and thinks she’ll make you a fine wife. So do I. You selected well, Jared, and your timing could not have been better. If there’s a chance your mother’s cancer has returned and she has to undergo more treatments, she’ll do whatever she has to do to retain her health to help plan your wedding.”
“Yes, your wedding. Thanks, Son, for giving your mother a reason to fight whatever we might be up against. She’ll be able to handle anything now since she knows one of her sons is finally getting married and will eventually give her a grandchild.”
Jared stood in stunned silence. One thing was clear—he couldn’t tell his mother the truth about Dana now.
Dana glanced through her peephole and raised an arched brow. She and Jared had said their goodbyes yesterday, so why was he standing on her front porch at six o’clock in the afternoon?
She swallowed the knot in her throat and tried to stop the rapid beating of her heart. It didn’t take much for her to remember the kiss they’d shared, a kiss she had thought about most of the day. Instead of concentrating on her work, her mind had been filled with memories of Jared Westmoreland and how well he could kiss, not wanting to think about what else he was probably an expert at doing.
She continued to study him through the peephole. He was dressed in his business suit, which meant he had probably come straight from the office. He looked coolly reserved, in control and professional. Yet at the same time he also looked devastatingly male, incredibly sexy and he was affecting her in that man-woman kind of way. Swallowing hard, she blew out a slow breath and told herself to get a grip as she opened the door.
“Jared?” She sounded breathless, even to her own ears and could only imagine how she might have sounded to his. And the way he was looking at her with those dark, intense eyes wasn’t helping.
“Dana, I hate to bother you but I need to talk with you about something important.”
Her eyes widened. Whatever he had to say sounded serious. “All right.”
She stepped aside to let him in and closed the door behind him. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked, leading him to her living room.
“No, I’m fine,” Jared said, but feeling anything but fine. His conversation with his father had thrown a monkey wrench into what he’d planned to tell his mother. Out of the corner of his eye Jared saw Tom race from where he had been near the sofa to the vicinity of the kitchen.
Jared took the seat Dana offered him on the sofa and watched as she sat in the chair across from him. With everything on his mind, the last thing he needed was to notice the skirt and blouse she was wearing. But he hadn’t been able to look away when she sat down and he caught a glimpse of thigh that her short skirt revealed. Nor could he dismiss the way her blouse hugged her breasts.
“Jared? You said you had something important you needed to discuss with me.”
Her words reminded him of the reason he was there and he met her curious gaze. “I went to see my mother this morning to clear up the misunderstanding, but things didn’t go the way I had intended. She wasn’t home so I talked to my dad instead.”
Dana nodded. “And you told him the truth.”
“Oh?” Dana said, confused.
“There seems to be a problem,” Jared said, knowing that he needed to tell her everything. He decided to start at the beginning.
“Three years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The lump was removed and she went through eight weeks of both chemo and radiation. She had good days and bad days and my father, brothers and I saw just what a remarkable woman she was.”
The sincerity in Jared’s words touched Dana. She could imagine what Jared, his brothers and father had gone through. After spending time with his family yesterday, it was easy to see just how much Sarah Westmoreland was adored by everyone.
“Anyway,” Jared said, reclaiming Dana’s attention, “I talked to Dad this morning and before I could tell him the truth about us, that there really wasn’t an ‘us,’ he told me that the doctors found another lump in my mother’s breast and if it’s malignant, we might be talking about cancer treatments again.”
“Oh, no,” Dana whispered and immediately moved from her chair to sit next to Jared on the sofa. She reached out and touched his arm. “I’m sorry to hear that, Jared,” she said in all sincerity.
He slowly stood and shoved his hands into his pockets. Her touch had elicited sensations throughout his body, sensations he didn’t want to deal with right now. He had to stay focused.
“So am I,” he said slowly. “However, knowing my mother, she will handle this like the fighter that she is. But there’s something I can do to make the fight a little easier for her.”
Jared met her gaze. “It’s a crazy idea but at the moment I’d do anything for my mother, including lie.”
Dana frowned, wondering what he would lie about. “Jared, what do you need to lie about?” she asked, rising from her seat to come stand in front of him.
His jaw muscles tightened and he briefly glanced away. When he met her gaze again, his eyes were intense and her breath caught at the tormented look she saw lodged there.
“Jared, what do you need to lie about?” she asked again.
He hesitated for a moment then said, “Us. My father made me realize just how happy my mother is, believing that I’ve finally decided to settle down and get married. Considering everything right now, I don’t want to take that happiness away from her.”
Reeling in confusion, Dana felt the need to take a step back. “What are you saying?” she asked, not sure she was following him.
“I have a proposal for you,” he said, holding her gaze.
Dana swallowed. “What kind of a proposal?”
He gave her a not-so-easy smile. “That we continue to pretend we’re engaged for a little while longer…for my mother’s sake.”
It would have been easier, Dana thought, if she had been sitting down instead of standing up. Nevertheless, the impact of Jared’s words slammed into her.
She stared at him, looked for some sort of teasing glint in his gaze that indicated he was joking. But all she saw was an expression that said he was dead serious. Her mouth went dry and her heart began hammering in her chest. “Pretend we’re engaged?” she finally found her voice to ask.
She inhaled slowly, deeply. “B-but we can’t do that.”
For several seconds he just looked at her. His shoulders straight, his gaze intent, clear. “Yes, we can. I never realized how much seeing at least one of her sons settling down meant to Mom. Now I do and I will do whatever I can to make her happy.”
“Even get married?”
He frowned. “I hope I don’t have to go that far, Dana. I think her believing I’m engaged will help at least until the worst part is over.”
“Then I tell her things didn’t work out between us and that we broke our engagement. It happens.”
Deciding that standing wouldn’t work, Dana sank back onto the sofa. “Trust me, I know all about broken engagements, Jared.”
He sighed deeply. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a lot to ask of you, considering your broken engagement with Luther, but I don’t know what else to do.”
The warmth in his gaze touched her. She wet her lips and leaned back in her seat, trying to absorb everything he’d told her. She couldn’t help but admire him for his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb. He had no intention of ever getting married and had made that fact very clear. Knowing that, she was sure he didn’t want to get involved in any of the trappings that led to marriage, either pretended or otherwise. Yet, for the love he had for his mother he would do what he felt he had to.
She lifted her chin and rubbed nervous hands against her skirt. “If I went along with you on this, Jared, just what would you expect of me?”
Jared moved to sit in the chair across from her. He was glad she was at least considering his proposal. “I’ve never been engaged before but you have. How were things with you and Cord?”
Dana sighed. “In the beginning I could actually see us spending the rest of our lives together. But now I have to admit that I wanted to marry him for all the wrong reasons. Love had nothing to do with it. He was handsome, successful—”