He took my hand and stepped into me. My chin rose so I could hold his eyes.

“I love you,” I said.

“Good, because I love you too.”

The brush of his lips against mine were too tender, too achingly adoring.

“Come on,” he said, towing me toward the back.

I chuckled, trotting to keep up. “We can go to my place, you know.”

“I know. But this … this is our place.”

The simplicity of the words didn’t undermine their weight. And I followed him through the moonlit greenhouse, carried on a cloud of perfume and hopes and starlight.

Storage was dark, but he knew the way. My hand was lost inside his, his free hand reaching for the outlet. When the golden fairy lights illuminated the space, it felt like we were standing in a dream. The dandelions he’d made surrounded us among the familiar furniture and frames, baskets and crates. And there in the middle was our hay pile, the home of my happiness and joy.

This. This was where I had fallen in love. This was where I’d learned to let go. This was where I’d found myself and where I’d found the man who changed my life.

When he kissed me again, it wasn’t a brush or a flutter. It was a claiming. He captured me with his arms, his lips. With his hands, so strong as he laid me down. With his hips, so insistent. It wasn’t slow, though it was deliberate—the way he undressed me, the way he touched me. The way he kissed me whispered a word to me, and my heart echoed another back.

Mine, his body said.

Yours, mine replied.

And he took the offering I gave with a declaration of heart, a promise of self, one I knew was forever.

Forever. I knew without knowing that he was my forever.

And I wouldn’t waste a minute.

Not one.

27

Imagine That

LUKE

Tess chuckled against my chest, and I pulled her a little closer, as close as we could get without tripping and eating sidewalk.

“Seriously, as much as I love the hay pile, can we please sleep at my place tonight?” she asked. “I’m going to be picking hay out of my hair for a week after sleeping there last night.”

“You say that like it’s something new.”

“I know, but now we actually have another option. My room is on the other side of the apartment, and Dad not only sleeps like a rock, but he has a white-noise machine. Please?” She was almost whining. “Just think—clean sheets and pillows and a nice, soft bed that doesn’t make us itchy.”

“You sure your dad is okay with that?”

“He says he is. I’m sure he’s not thinking about it in much detail.”

I laughed. “God, I hope not.”

“Honestly, I think he’s just so happy about the prospect of us and of me not ending up a spinster, he’d agree to just about anything.”

I kissed the top of her head. “All right, we’ll sleep at your place, but if I wake up with a rifle pointed at me, I’m out like disco.”

That earned me a laugh and a squeeze of her arms around my waist. “I’ll lock up his bullets at least.”

“Preciate’ that.”

We turned the corner toward the shop and my parents’ place where dinner with my family awaited. The last thirty-six hours, Tess and I had only been apart for a forty-five-minute stretch, so we could shower and deal with our families. Well, I’d dealt with mine and rushed off to her place as quick as I could.

Part of me worried it was all a trick of the mind, that I’d knock on her door and she’d be gone or we’d be kicked back to a few days ago when everything was suspended midair, when we were waiting to see what would happen when the chips fell. But she’d answered the door, flushed and smiling, hair damp and smelling of flowers.

It was as if she were composed of flowers. Roses, red and thorny, delicate and dangerous. And somehow, I’d eased my way through the brambles to lose myself in the velvety beauty of her.

We climbed the steps and walked through the door to the sound of the chaos that was my family. They were seated at the table, their faces swinging to us when we entered, followed by a chorus of cheering. Dinner was freshly on the table, and so we hurried to sit, somehow managing to simultaneously greet six people in the process.

“Well, I must say,” started my mother, “the sight of you two together warms my old, rickety heart. I can’t imagine why you kept it from me all this time.”

Kash snorted a laugh, shoveling a mouthful of potatoes into his mouth. “Sure, because you would have been so hands-off and kept completely to yourself, right?”

Mom made a derisive noise. “Don’t talk with your mouth full, Kassius. And I would have been the very picture of restraint.”


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