"Just tell me again, sweetheart. Tell me how you feel. Tell me what's inside your heart. That's all you need to do."
She took a shaky breath, the words on the tip of her tongue. But now that she knew for sure just how big were the floodgates of emotion that came with them, renewed terror kept her silent.
"The first time is the hardest," he told her in a gentle voice. "We've got all night for you to get there again."
It was when the hint of a smile slid onto his lips, just visible in the faint moonlight coming through the window, amazing her that it could come when she was almost paralyzed with terror, that she realized he was right. She could do it.
"I love you."
His mouth found hers, stealing what was left of her breath. "I'm never going to get tired of hearing you say that. Tell me again."
It was easier this time, as if she knew how to unlock the keys to the prison the words had been locked up in for so long. "I love you." The three words settled deep into her as shock began to recede.
"Do you know how long I've waited to hear you say that again?"
His laughter moved across her skin. "Ten years."
And then he was moving his lips across her face, dipping onto her mouth and then down her neck, her shoulders, the tops of her breasts. His mouth closed over the tip of her breast, and "I love you" came out of her mouth again, this time on a gasp of pleasure. His tongue rewarded her admission, and she arched into his mouth, her hands threading through his soft hair. He moved to lave her other breast, and she said it again, amazed by how much easier "I love you" was every time she said it.
And as they came together one more time, as he slid into her and took her breath away just as he always did, when he bent down to kiss her, the "I love you" she whispered against his mouth was all either of them needed to jump off the edge. Together.
She was still scared, still twisted up, still knocked as far off center as she'd ever been, still completely uncertain about how they were going to work out a future together. But at least here, in the private cocoon of his bedroom, the love Calvin gave her overpowered her doubts.
"Good news," Olive said. "I'm coming home today."
Sarah whooped with joy behind the register, startling a customer into dropping a handful of yarn on the floor. "I'm so glad you're all right, Grandma." Maybe everything was going to be okay after all.
All morning, Sarah had been on pins and needles waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because it couldn't possibly be as easy as two childhood sweethearts falling back in love with each other, could it?
No, she told herself for the hundredth time that day, she was just being silly. Trying to throw up roadblocks on an otherwise smooth track.
All day in the store, Sarah had been preparing for the town hall meeting. Rather, she'd been trying to prepare, with her notes spread out across the counter, her laptop open so she could make last-minute changes. But she'd barely been able to concentrate. And it was that same lack of focus that had her saying, "I had the strangest dream, Grandma, about the carousel, where I was knitting bridles and saddles for the horses."
"You're a genius!" her grandmother exclaimed. "What a perfect way to raise money to move and restore the carousel. We'll have a knitting contest. People will pay a fee to enter."
"You know what?" Sarah had to smile at the excitement in her grandmother's voice--and in her own. "That might actually work."
"Of course it will work," Olive said in a no-nonsense voice. "And I'm glad you've found your reason to knit. I thought maybe falling in love would take you there. But this makes much more sense. Of course, you would have to knit toward a goal. Something tangible, like saving the carousel. Have you started making a saddle yet?"
It was almost as if her grandmother had ESP and knew that Sarah had been looking at different skeins all morning, wondering how they'd knit up for the horses, fighting the urge to pick up a pair of needles. "How could I possibly knit something like that without a pattern?"
"Well, if you don't think you're up to the challenge, I understand."
"You're not much for subtlety, are you, Grandma?"
"I'm too old for subtlety. Speaking of which, how are things going with that boy who's so in love with you?"
She didn't bother to deny it. What was the point when her grandmother obviously saw everything? Even the things Sarah had tried so hard not to see.
"Good. Great, actually." Warmth stole over her as she remembered how sweet--and how sexy--it was to wake up in his arms. But then that same dark premonition she'd been trying to run from all morning settled on her as she added, "Except for the fact that we're going to be facing off against each other tonight at the town hall meeting."
"I sure wish I felt up to attending. I'd like to see the fireworks. Be sure to drop in to the cottage tonight to tell me all about it. And I'll let my friends know about your knitted saddle idea so that we can get started on them right away."
Sarah was still staring at the receiver, wondering how her life had managed to get so crazy in so short a time, when Christie walked in.
"I've been meaning to come by for the past few days, but things have been nonstop at the inn. Ever since the press found out that we hosted Smith Sullivan's wedding, we've been booked solid."
Sarah smiled, or tried to anyway. "Don't worry about it. Things have been nuts with me too." She thought about Calvin, about her dream, about her grandmother knitting a saddle for a carousel horse. "Really nuts."
"It's not your grandmother, is it?"
"No," Sarah said quickly. "She's coming home from the hospital today."
"That's great news." Christie smiled, her expression softening even further as she added, "Rumor has it that I'm a great listener if you ever want to talk."
Sarah had never really had a girlfriend with whom she could talk about dating or guys. Not since she and Catherine were kids, actually. Now, for the first time, she found that she desperately wanted to sit down with another woman and talk about her feelings.
But before she could take Christie up on her offer, the door opened and Catherine walked in. "Here's the schedule for the town hall meeting tonight." She dropped a printout on the counter before turning to Christie with a smile. "Hey there. How are you?"
bsp; "Good. Taking a much needed break."
Jenny walked in next. "Sorry I'm late, Sarah. Blood and kids is all you need to know."
"Are your kids okay?"
"They're fine. Just stupid. Hi, Christie, Catherine."
"I was just going to get a cup of coffee at Moose Cafe," Catherine said to Christie. "Care to join me?"
"I'd love to. Sarah, come with us."
Before she could gracefully decline, Jenny jumped in. "You've been chained to the register all week. All this wool and alpaca can start to make you crazy after a while. I can man the store solo for a while."
Sarah knew when she was cornered. Not only by Jenny gently kicking her out, but also because Christie clearly wanted to try to mend things between her and Catherine. And yet as she followed the other women, she was surprised to realize that she wasn't overcome with relief at getting a chance to escape the store.
The truth was, she liked working there, liked talking with women, liked helping people with something fun that truly got them buzzed. And then there was the yarn itself, which she'd fallen head over heels for too.
The three of them ordered their drinks, then sat at a table by the lakeside window. Looking out at the blue lake, the patchwork quilt of colored leaves spread across the mountains, Sarah said, "It really is beautiful here."
"Which is why you shouldn't bring those condos in and change everything," Catherine said.
As Sarah turned her gaze from the water to her old friend's face, Christie jumped in. "I'm sure she didn't mean it like that, did you, Catherine?"
But Sarah knew she had. "I always admired you so much when we were kids, Catherine. You were never afraid to say what you thought. What you really meant."
Catherine blinked at the unexpected compliment. "Neither were you."
But Sarah was starting to know better than that. "It may have looked like that, but lately I've been wondering if I was just trying to make everyone happy." Her father, of course, but she hadn't stopped there. She'd spent years trying to please every teacher, every boss. When, she suddenly wondered, had she tried to please herself?