FORTY-SEVEN

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Mark's heart hammered in his chest as he caught the tiny frown and watched Virginia's lips press together so tight they all but disappeared. Jesus, was he moving too fast? He hadn't even thought about that. They had never talked about marriage. For all he knew, dickhead Tom had totally turned her off the whole matrimony thing. Or maybe she needed time to adjust to the change in his identity. . . It was a lot to throw at her all at once.

"You—" Her voice came out as a whisper. She cleared her throat. "You don't have to marry me just because I'm pregnant. That was never my intention, and I don't want you to feel pressured. I'm quite capable of doing this alone. Not that you wouldn't help, it's just . . ."

The rest of her ramble was lost to Mark as relief hit into him so hard, he physically sagged. If she were worried about him feeling cornered, she needn't be. He stood, placed the box in her palm, and made sure he had her full attention. "Look at it."

In all his business dealings, nothing rivaled the anticipation he felt during that ten seconds or so of silence before she opened the lid. He knew she had it all figured out when her hand drifted up to touch the necklace he'd brought home from his New York trip. The ring's setting was two hearts intertwined with a diamond placed in the middle of each.

"Yes, I bought them together. I wanted to ask you that night but couldn't bring myself to do it when you didn't know the truth about who I was. Paul picked it up from the house today, the reason for all the secrecy I'm afraid."

He took the box from her hand, removed the ring, and held it front of her. "So, Ginny, this is the real me, an ordinary Marine. No more big houses. No more fancy cars. Everything is gone, except my love for you. Will you marry me?"

Pinched between his fingers as it was, the ring looked scaled down, and he wondered if the diamonds were too small. If he'd had it his way, he would have insisted on the biggest, brightest, lighthouse-style stones, emitting warnings to any jerks in the vicinity with ideas in their heads. She wouldn't have liked that, though. Simple and elegant was more her style. Yet the way she was staring at the ring . . . You should have gone for the bloody Hope diamond, asshole. "If you don't like it–"

"No! . . . No, it's beautiful. Perfect. It's just . . . I just. . . I never dreamed this could happen. It seemed impossible, and I had come to terms with that. And now . . ." Her eyes were shiny with fresh tears as she lifted them to his.

"You're making me nervous here, Ginny."

Suddenly, she made a noise that sounded seriously close to a snort.

Not what he expected.

"Ordinary Marine, huh? Nobody would ever dare call you ordinary." Virginia brought her hand up between them. "Hell, yes, I will marry you. I hope you're up for this pregnancy-hormone thing, though, because I'm about to cry again."

The ring got shoved onto her finger so fast it was a miracle the thing didn't dislodge a diamond. Then she was in his arms, lifted into the air as soft lips claimed his.

As he moved toward the bedroom, she pointed to the stove. "What about your food?"

"Later," he drawled. "It can wait. This can't."

Her smile put the brilliance of the candles to shame.

In the room that could have doubled as a walk-in closet, the spectacle of flickering lights continued. The suitcase was still lying open on the bed. "One sec," he muttered, adjusting his hold to give it a few kicks. The thing held on like it had claws. With one final hard shove it ended up upside down on the floor. "Oops."

The giggle against his neck made him want to repeat the process all over again, except that would only delay getting his woman naked. Fiancée, he corrected in his head, feeling as though he could conquer the world if needed.

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