Katrina turned and began pushing through the throng of people in the courtroom. She felt Jerilynn tug at her sleeve, and pulled away with a muttered ‘let’s hurry’ to her friend, wanting to get away from the courthouse before Gavin could accost her. She’d felt his eyes on her throughout the proceedings, and thought he’d come, not necessarily to see the brothers sentenced, but to speak with her.
Amid the showers of questions the reporters were throwing at her, she had gained the main front hall of the court building before Gavin was able to get close enough to talk to her.
She took three more steps.
“You’d better stop,” Jerilynn hissed beside her. “You don’t want these reporters to hear what he has to say, do you?”
“You’ve got a point,” she said, looking at how many reporters were still hovering nearby.
Warily, she stopped, knowing he would be persistent enough to follow her on her cruise, if necessary, until he had his say. She didn’t want any of it public.
“What?” She turned and faced Gavin squarely.
His eyes scanned the crowded corridor, filled with reporters still throwing unanswered questions at her.
“We need to talk,” he said. “Could I take you to lunch?”
Katrina shook her head. “Sorry, I have a lunch date, then I’m leaving on vacation. You’ll have to make an appointment.”
She turned away from him, continuing on her way to Jerilynn’s car, pleased he didn’t want their conversation overheard either.
“Katrina!” he called out, exasperated, following close on her heels. “Please. Just lunch; someplace we can talk without,” he glanced around pointedly, “our every word ending up in the society pages tomorrow morning.”
“I’m not going anywhere private with you, Gavin Browning, or anywhere which will give you the opportunity to—” Katrina bit her words off; she absolutely did not want the reporters to hear her say ‘seduce me’.
Gavin stared pointedly at her face, his eyes then flicked over her body, returning to meet her gaze, his unspoken words completing her sentence for her.
Katrina blushed. Drat the man, why did he still have such an effect on her? She spun on her heel and stalked away, Gavin and Jerilynn closest to her, but some of the reporters, apparently smelling a story, trailed along in their wake. When she reached the car, she walked around to the passenger side, then turned to see where Jerilynn was.
Jerilynn was yards behind her, walking alongside Gavin, laughing at some shared joke and obviously agreeing with whatever he was saying.
They arrived at the car. “It’s all settled, then,” Jerilynn said, turning to Katrina. “Gavin needs a little of your time, and I’ve made you a lunch appointment with him.” Her eyes twinkled at Katrina as she gestured toward her car. “He’s promised to get you to the airport on time to check in. I’ll take charge of your luggage, and meet you there.”
“Who died and put you in charge of scheduling my time?” Katrina asked, stung.
“You hired me, didn’t you? Or were you just kidding around with me?” A scared look came into her now flushing face.
“No, I meant it, but…”
“Good!” Jerilynn’s smile slid back into view.
Katrina stood stock-still, in absolute shock, as Jerilynn breezily unlocked the driver’s door, climbed in, and drove off without her.
Gavin gently took her arm and steered her toward his Jaguar. He had her bundled into his car and had driven off with her before she got control of herself again.
She couldn’t believe Jerilynn had betrayed her, making her endure this impossible pain by forcing her into Gavin’s company.
“Where would you like to eat?” he asked quietly.
“I’m not hungry,” she snapped at him.
“Fine, then, I’ll choose.”
“You do that.”
She turned her face away from him, staring unseeingly out of the window. She was going to fire Jerilynn. The last thing she wanted to do with Gavin was sit down and have a civil little chat. Well, she would call on all of her abilities to be civil through this little lunch, then she could get on the boat and sail off into the sunset, away from him.
Despite the interest he had seemed to show in her, and in spite of his wonderful kisses, he couldn’t possibly have actually loved her or he wouldn’t have left her alone, without his strength to depend on.
Gavin drove in silence, then parked the car, coming around the car to open her door and assist her to alight.
She accepted his hand, then allowed him to guide her into the restaurant, not realizing where they were until the Maitre d’ was bowing before her and thanking her for giving his establishment a second chance.
Before she could frame a protest, they’d been shown to a table and mineral water brought immediately, along with a pair of menus. Her appetite had diminished in the face of her anger, and she ordered a small salad, hoping she wouldn’t get so worked up that this meal would end up like the last one she’d eaten here.
Once the waiter had departed with their orders, Gavin looked at her across the table.
“The only thing you could possibly say to me that I would have the slightest interest in hearing, is where you’ve been these last three months when I really needed you,” Katrina hissed at him, the intensity of her anger surprising herself.
"How dare you just waltz into my life, turn it upside down, let me almost get killed, then abandon me to that flock of vultures who call themselves lawyers? I had to relive the agony of my marriage to Charleston, over and over—for the prosecutors, for the defenders, at the arraignment, and again at the very well-publicized trial. There isn’t anyone in Spencer who doesn’t know what an idiot I was to have married Charleston in the first place. I’m going to have to move again, just to save face!”
Fuming, she’d run out of words, so she stopped, her chest heaving with suppressed sobs. She absolutely refused to cry again in this restaurant. She gulped in air to keep the tears at bay.
Gavin’s face had grown continually paler during her diatribe, and he’d actually shown a hint of sorrow for his actions.
“Well?” she pressed, “Where have you been?”
Gavin slowly reached out and picked up his water goblet, taking a long, slow drink, as if to steady himself, then took a deep breath.
“Don’t you dare call me Kitten. What would your Granny say about people who would be so cruel as to abandon a kitten?” Katrina’s voice was cold in her fury, but it held steady.
Gavin actually flinched when she mentioned his Granny.
“Katrina, I’m sorry you had to endure that by yourself. The only excuse I can give is that I was trying to do what was right. I’m too old for you. Besides, I met you on business, and gentlemen don’t mix business and pleasure.”
Katrina felt her face flushing and her heart became lighter as he implied that he thought of her as pleasure. She hurriedly squashed the feeling.
“So you’re saying that some misplaced intention of chivalry forced you to ignore how you feel, and to do something you didn’t want to do?” Katrina asked, her voice still as cold as she could make it.
Gavin’s cheeks and forehead turned bright pink. “Yes…no…you don’t understand.”
Katrina gazed at him, amazed. She’d never seen him flustered like this, and watched his fingers nervously fiddle with his cutlery, the silence lengthening.
“Well, I especially can’t understand if you don’t tell me.” She wasn’t about to let him get off easy…her three months hadn’t been easy, and he’d have to pay for that before she could forgive him.
The waiter arrived with their food, deftly setting it on the table before fading invisibly into the background.
Katrina picked at her salad, mixing the dressing into the lettuce leaves. The silence between them stretching further still.
“Well?” she asked.
Gavin sighed. “I originally came out here half suspecting you of murdering Andrew. Before I discovered your innocence, I was more than half in love with you. I…left you, like I said, because I’m too old for you, and…because you shouldn’t marry your lawyer.” Gavin cut the corner off his lasagna and bit into it.
Katrina ducked her head to hide her smile. He wanted to marry her. Her heart took wing, and she made no effort to rein it in.
“You’re not my lawyer,” she said quietly, “and I don’t care how old you are.”
Gavin choked on his lasagna.
She stabbed up a bunch of her salad and put it in her mouth.
“You…you’d be willing to marry me?” Disbelief painted his face.
Katrina slowly chewed and swallowed her salad, watching the anxiety build in his eyes.
“That’s a pretty lame proposal,” she remarked blandly, “and you still haven’t said exactly why you came back.”
She would give almost anything to marry him, but there was one doubt he had to clear up first. Charleston had said…and though she didn’t credit that Charleston actually knew what he was talking about, a doubt had been raised. It must be laid to rest before she could do what she really wanted to do, which was to fling herself into Gavin’s arms.
Gavin smiled. “That’s the easy explanation. For the last three months, I haven’t been able to eat, sleep, or concentrate on my work. My brain has been totally occupied with thoughts of Katrina Lee McSwayne. In my dreams, she dances before me, luring me to her side. You have such a hold on my heart, my dear, that I can’t carry on any sort of a sane and productive life without you in it. Does that answer your question?”
Katrina smiled at him, sweetly, then made certain to keep her voice entirely casual as she said, “So you decided you couldn’t live without my money?”
Gavin spluttered incoherently for a few moments. “I don’t want your money. How many times do I have to tell you that? I happen to make quite enough as a lawyer to raise a large family of children and support my wife in comfort. I even have a small pile of what people call ‘family money’; my part of my grandfather’s inheritance. Hire any lawyer…or pack of lawyers you want. I’ll sign any pre-nuptial papers you want me to and make it absolutely impossible for me to even come close to touching Andrew’s money. I don’t care about it. I don’t need that money. I don’t want that money. I never wanted that money. ”
“Oh, I see. You’re willing to give up Andrew’s money…” she emphasized his name, “but you’re willing to take the rest of it?” Her voice was honey-sweet.
“What rest of it?”
His face was utterly perplexed. There was the proof she needed. He didn’t even know about the rest of the money, therefore he couldn’t possibly have come back to marry her just to get his hands on it. Katrina sighed with relief. She allowed her smile to surface.
“The six billion or so I inherited from the McSwayne Diamond Mines,” she said casually.
Gavin turned stark white. “Then…you really are…” he couldn’t finish his sentence.
Katrina nodded. “With the publicity from the trial, their lawyers contacted me. We compared notes and discovered my grandfather McSwayne, who I remember as working for the railroads, really was the younger son. He ran away from the family money to make his own way in the world. Apparently he’s the only one of the family who had children. We even had DNA testing done, to prove my relationship.
“They promised not to make the announcement right away, so I could finish up this trial and go on my cruise before getting tangled up in that bunch of publicity.”
Gavin swallowed hard. “Then of course, you’ll want to include that money in the papers. I want to support my family, I’m too stinking proud to live off my wife’s money.”
Katrina smiled. “I know,” she said softly. “So that only leaves the matter of the extremely lame proposal.”
Gavin smiled back. “Well, I’m new at proposing. That was my first one. Do you want me to try again, and see if I can do better?”
Gavin stood, cleared his throat loudly several times, and then knelt on the floor at Katrina’s feet, taking her hand in one of his. Every eye in the restaurant turned to watch him. Katrina knew, somehow, that he was about to cause another…his very own…kerfluffle. She felt her face beginning to grow warm.
“My dearest Kitten,” he began, rather more loudly than she thought was necessary, “I beg you to grant me a boon and hear my request.” His free hand gesticulated wildly in the air.
Katrina, her face now burning with embarrassment, nodded. She’d asked for it. He was not bashful about answering it, it seemed, and continued.
“I come before you this afternoon to grovel at your feet, to declare my love for you before all these witnesses,” he gestured now with his free hand at the other patrons of the restaurant, “and beg you to allow me to become the most joyful man who ever stood upon the face of the earth, by consenting to become my wife, the mother of my children, and my lifelong companion, cherished above all others.”
“Get up,” Katrina hissed, her face not just hot, but on fire.
“Not until you answer me,” Gavin said in a low voice.
People began to call out encouragement for her to accept his proposal. Her face went scarlet, the sweat beginning to form and slide down her temples. She tried to pull her hand from his, but he held it tighter, still. The cat calls were becoming louder, some included whistling and clapping. Gavin’s eyes were beseeching her.
Katrina’s heart finished its melt-down. She knew she’d have to finish this before he would get up. Gathering all her courage, she took a deep breath.
“Yes, I will give you my hand in marriage,” she said in the loudest voice she could manage at the moment. “In fact, I’ll give you more than just my hand, I’ll give you the rest of me as well…and all my earthly possessions come with me with unwritten consent, it’s a packaged deal.”
Gavin’s face paled as he knew exactly what that meant, but amid the cheers on every side, he rose from the floor and tucked her tenderly in his arms, kissing her gently on the lips before wrapping her in a tight hug. The entire restaurant exploded into a mixture of applause, whistles, and loud congratulations.
“I’ll start planning the wedding as soon as Jerilynn and I get back from our cruise,” Katrina said, her voice muffled against his chest.
Gavin pulled back just enough to look at her, incredulity in every pore on his face.
“You’re leaving me to go on the cruise?” he asked, stunned.
Katrina nodded, grinning widely.
“The tickets are non-refundable and I don’t want to waste my money. Jerilynn’s afraid I’ll run out. She doesn’t know about the McSwayne money yet, you see.”
Gavin laughed. “You are precious, Katrina Lee McSwayne,” he said as he took possession of her lips once again.