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"Let's have a baby, Whit."
Most men would be shocked out of their shoes over the abrupt request, but Whitfield Manning IV wasn't most men. Because of his status and wealth, he'd become accustomed to propositions from various and sundry females, although this particular proposition was a first. Most women were interested in the benefits of consummation, without any possible consequences.
But Mallory O'Brien, attorney at law, his best friend's sister and his own roommate of four months, wasn't like most women. She didn't fawn all over him, didn't care about his bank account. She did enjoy handing him grief on a daily basis. Obviously this was just another one of her ploys to get his attention.
Whit continued to peruse the sports page and muttered, "A bagel sounds great, O'Brien. Add some of that cream cheese, will ya?"
"I didn't say bagel. I said baby. B-a-b-y."
Fortunately, Whit was a multitasker. He could read the current baseball stats and still humor her. "Sure thing, but my schedule's pretty tight at the moment." He studied the ceiling and pretended to think. "I can probably do you at lunch on Tuesday, on top of the conference table, right after I get approval of the Barclay headquarters' design. I'll have my secretary mark it down on the calendar."
In spite of the randy images rolling around in his mind, Whit went back to the newspaper. But before he even finished the western division standings, Mallory snatched the section from his grasp, wadded it up and cannon-balled it across the room. "Whit Manning, just stop and listen to me for a minute."
He glanced up to see her standing over him, all five feet, ten inches of curvaceous female follywith shoulder-length, dark auburn hair and translucent green eyes that she aimed on him in a hard stare. The loose-fitting, red and white heart-spattered pajamas rode low on her hips, giving Whit a gander at her navel, where the skimpy matching top didn't quite meet the bottoms.
He should've known better than to give her the set for her birthday last month. He really should've known better than to walk in on her last week without knocking. But how was he supposed to know she liked to slather her body with lotion while sitting on the end of her bed, naked?
Big mistake, especially for a man who hadn't been involved with any woman in months. Oddly, he hadn't felt the need to find a woman since Mallory had moved in. He chalked that up to establishing a comfortable rapport with his roommate, not his desire for celibacy. Or any real desire to take their relationship to another level. At least he didn't think so, or really didn't think about that at all. At least not more than twice a day.
He needed to end his current dating slump fast, before he did something really stupid, such as try to seduce her. And, in turn, ruin their friendship. Another potential mistake.
And that "potential mistake" continued to glare at him as if he were primordial slime, which would be justified considering his primitive thoughts.
Whit gave her a champion scowl, not difficult because right now he was pretty ticked at himself for staring at the big heart decal centered between her breasts, his gaze wandering right, then left. Next year, he would buy her that damn smoothie machine she'd always wanted. A much safer gift as far as his sanity was concerned.
He straightened and sent her his well-practiced grin, the one that had saved him from many a woman's wrath on more than one occasion. "Okay, O'Brien, you have my undivided attention. Did I forget to wash my beer glass? I know I didn't leave the seat up because I haven't been in your bathroom." Not that he hadn't considered joining her in the shower a time or two.
She dropped down on the sofa beside him, hugged her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. "You didn't do anything wrong. Today. And I'm dead serious. I want to have a baby. With you."
The shock finally arrived and slammed into Whit full force. If he'd been wearing any shoes, they'd be across the room next to the Sunday Times about now. "Are you insane?"
After lowering her feet to the floor, Mallory shifted until she faced him, one arm resting over the back of the sofa, one hand fisted on her lap. "No. I'm determined."
Her somber expression prompted Whit's concern. Damn, this was getting even more confusing. "Why the hell would you even consider having a baby with me?"
"Because I trust you, Whit. Because you're my friend. And I know you're safe."
He wasn't feeling particularly safe at the moment, or savvy. "Maybe I'm a little slow on the uptake, Mallory, but you still haven't fully explained this crazy notion of yours."
She squirmed and grabbed a pillow to her chest, covering her breasts and alleviating at least one reason for Whit's sudden urge to squirm, too. "I'm thirty now. It's time. My biological clock is getting noisy."
"So hit the sleep button. I'm thirty-three, and the thought of having a kid hasn't crossed my mind."
She twisted the corner of the pillow until Whit thought she might rip it open. "Men are different. You can conceive a child in your eighties. Women don't have that luxury. My eggs are getting older. Your sperm will stay young for years."
Instead of the usual legal jargon, the words sperm and eggs coming out of Mallory's pretty mouth sounded kind of strange. But thinking about the process of joining his and her reproductive parts sounded like an enticement Whit couldn't refuse. But he had to refuse. This was nuts. He also had to get out of there before Old Man Libido carted off his common sense.
Without offering a response, he moved onto the nearby ottoman, grabbed up his running shoes, pulled them on and tied them so tightly he expected his toes to drop off due to lack of circulation before the first lap. Normally he would exchange his jeans and T-shirt for more appropriate running gear, but he didn't have a minute to waste.
"Where are you going, Whit?"
He glanced at Mallory, who was still seated on the couch, choking the pillow even tighter. "I'm going for a run. And while I'm gone, do me a favor. Return to your mother ship and send the real Mallory back home."
She rolled her eyes and plopped the pillow into her lap. "This is so typical."
He stood and frowned again. "Typical? Nothing about this whole conversation is typical, at least not in this dimension."
She tossed the pillow aside, came to her feet and shortened the distance between them with two strides. "Not the baby thing. The way you're always running away. That's typical."
Typical Mallory. She was nothing if not a straight shooter, even if she wasn't always right. "I'm about to run, but not away." Okay, so this time she was right.
She propped both hands on her hips. "Yes, you are. Just like you've been running away from starting your own business because you can't stand up to your father. Do you ever do anything you want to do without his permission? Maybe that's the reason you won't even consider this. You know he wouldn't approve."
Damn her insight. And damn him for being more open with her than he had with any woman in his past. "I'm designing top-rate buildings, and I'm getting richer by the minute. Nothing wrong with that."
"But you're not happy about it because you want to build houses. You said so yourself."
Right again. "And you think having a baby with a man like me would make you happy? A man with a commitment allergy? You said that yourself."
She looked as frustrated as Whit felt. "I'm not asking you to marry me, for heaven's sake. I just want to have a baby. Then you can go your way, and I'll go mine. No complications."
"No strings attached, huh? I'm supposed to just walk away from my child and let you play single mom." That he couldn't do, even though his own mother had walked away.
"No, that's not what I want. You should be involved. And considering what I see day in and day out, bitter custody battles and divorces and kids used as pawns, I know we can bypass all of that because we're good friends. Neither one of us would let our child suffer through that BS."
Man, she had totally lost it. And Whit was about to lose it, too. Big-time. "Forget it. It ain't gonna happen."
She gave him a pleading look. "Just think about it, Whit. You could be my only hope."
Before Whit did something he might regret, like actually agree to this unbelievable scheme, he tore out the front door and slammed it behind him. He opted to ignore the elevator and sprinted down nine flights of stairs and rushed out of the exit leading to the street. He continued down the sidewalk at a fast clip, dodging the crush of Sunday strollers pushing baby carriages. Once he reached the nearby park, he navigated past the patrons enjoying Mayfest activities and made his way to his favorite jogging path along the bayou. He went into a dead run, all the while thinking his roommate had taken leave of her senses--and imagining what it would be like to have a baby with Mallory. Correction. What it would be like to make a baby with Mallory.
Whit pulled up dead in his tracks and swiped a hand over his forehead, the afternoon sun bearing down on his already overheated body. He wasn't ready to father a child. In fact, he'd always been extremely careful in his relationships--and there had been more than a few--to avoid that very thing. Even if he were ready, he sure as hell wouldn't walk away from his own kid, despite that Mallory would make a great mother. Regardless of the fact that his father had told him more times than he could count that he wasn't responsible in his personal life. Like Whitfield the third had room to talk, with three marriages under his belt.
But wouldn't his dad have to eat his words if Whit did agree to Mallory's plan? Wouldn't that just be a damn sight to see when Whit dropped that bomb?
He shook his head to clear away that concept, but he couldn't quite shake the fantasy of making love with his roommate. No can do. If he laid one hand on Mallory, her brother would torture him first and ask questions later.
He needed to run a couple of miles. Maybe then he would be too damn tired to act on impulse before weighing the consequences. Maybe when he returned, Mallory would tell him it had all been a bad joke. And maybe when he walked into work tomorrow morning, he would discover his father was retiring, giving Whit the freedom he craved.
Not very likely any of those things would happen, so he turned around and headed back home to talk it over with his roommate like an adult. But he still couldn't escape the images of making love with her, or ignore the desperation he'd seen in her eyes and heard in her voice during her final comment before his speedy exit.
You could be my only hope.
He had to know why. And he had to know now. As soon as he ran just a little more.
She shouldn't have blurted it out that way. But to Mallory it had seemed the only way to handle it. Upfront and straightforward.
When she wanted something badly enough, she pulled out all the stops to get it--namely, achieving the position of associate in her prestigious law firm, which she'd managed much quicker than most. After living with five older brothers, she'd learned to fight for what she wanted.
Now she wanted Whit Manning, the perfect father candidate--six feet three inches of a prime tribute to testosterone. He had a great body, a good sense of humor, dark chocolate eyes like her mom's and an inherent compassion that he often tried to hide with machismo. Most important, he had a brain and extreme talent as an architect.
He was also a player, known for his talents with the ladies, or so her brother Logan had told her time and again, dating back to the days when Whit was a fixture in their home during high school. But when she'd decided to relocate closer to her office to avoid the forty-minute commute, Logan had trusted Whit enough to suggest Mallory move in with Whit until she found her own place. Of course, that had been four months ago, and she was still living with him in the expensive downtown Houston loft he'd received from his dad as a graduation gift upon obtaining his master's degree. An exclusive two-story corner apart-ment--over two-thousand square feet of prime upscale property situated in a restored building with a rooftop pool and an unparalleled view of the city from myriad windows spanning the length of the living room walls.
The arrangement had worked out amazingly well, better than Mallory had expected. Whit hadn't pressured her to find her own apartment, and she had stopped searching about three weeks ago when she couldn't locate anything convenient to work. At least anything she could afford--yet. Eventually she would need to find someplace else, maybe a nice little house in the 'burbs. Something suitable for a child. And she would have that child--if Whit Manning cooperated. If Whit Manning ever came home again.
Mallory had almost given up on that happening when the door opened and Whit walked in, looking way too sexy for a man who needed a shower in the worst way. His dark hair clung to his nape, and sweat had left a fine sheen across his forehead. His dampened white T-shirt shirt molded to his broad chest, leaving no room for doubt that the man worked out often. Mallory's neglected hormones received a vigorous workout when Whit crossed the room and dropped down in the chair opposite the sofa where she sat, cotton balls stuffed between her half-painted toenails, and her brain stuffed with some fairly wicked thoughts.
Stopping midpedicure, Mallory tightened the top on the polish and set the bottle on a tissue on the chrome end table. "Well?"
He raked a long glance down her body and centered his gaze on her toes. "Hot pink looks good on you. Makes your feet look sexy."
Mallory wanted to laugh over that one considering her feet were much too big--size ten. "I'm not asking advice about nail polish. I want to know if you've thought any more about my proposal."
He leaned forward, rested his elbows on his thighs and clasped his hands together between his parted knees. "That's all I've been thinking about. And I'm also thinking you're leaving something out. So spill it."
Mallory laid a palm on her chest and tried to look innocent. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do. I can see it in your eyes."
Darn, he was good. Mallory imagined he was good at everything. She could probably find plenty of female references to attest to that fact, if only she could find his little black book. But his prowess in bed shouldn't matter to her, as long as he got the job done and got her pregnant. If she could convince him to agree.