The interviewer finally wrested the mic from Lucille. “Time for someone else to ask a question,” he said, jerking down the hem of his suit jacket.
Cole strode to the front of the line to grab the mic, cutting off several people, including his own mother.
“Hey,” the interviewer started, only to swallow hard when he caught a good look at Cole’s expression. He lifted his hands in surrender and backed off.
“The people who left you,” Cole said to Olivia. “They were a bunch of idiots. Anyone who’s ever left you is an idiot.” He didn’t break eye contact. “Including myself.”
“That’s not really a question,” the interviewer said, but backed off when Cole gave him another hard look.
Lucille pumped a fist in the air. “Yes! I knew this was going to get good. Hang on, honey, stop talking a second.” She shoved a hand into the pocket of her neon green tracksuit and pulled out her phone. “I want to catch this on tape for my YouTube channel.” She paused, then turned to Cole. “Do they still call it ‘tape’ even though it’s not tape?”
He ignored her and stepped onto the carpet to take Olivia’s hand in his.
“What are you doing?” she asked, eyes wide.
“You came into the Love Shack, willing to be public about our feelings in order to talk to me. I wronged you that day, and I’m hoping to fix it. Fix us.”
“Speak up,” Lucille demanded, holding up her phone.
“Us?” Olivia asked Cole, looking like she was afraid to hope.
“Us,” he said firmly, and hauled her off the bar stool and into his arms.
Olivia was having trouble tracking this whole conversation because her heart was smacking up against her ribs with every single beat. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It was all she could hear.
Well, that, and the voice of the angel on her right shoulder saying, Oh my God, he’s back! He’s here! He’s looking at you like you’re more important than his next breath!
But the devil on her left shoulder was standing firm, shaking her head. Don’t believe…
“Is it hot in here?” Olivia asked the interviewer as she pulled free from Cole. Because she was sweating in impolite places, and yet her teeth were chattering a little bit as well. Worse, her brain had gone on an island vacay without a forwarding address. “Maybe we should take a little break.” Or better yet, cancel—
“I was wrong to walk away from you,” Cole said. “I was wrong to let you think that you didn’t matter to me. If you’ll let me prove it, I’ll never walk away from you again.”
A new sensation fluttered in Olivia’s chest, and she was desperately afraid it was hope, that cruel bitch.
Cole took in her expression and frowned. His arms banded around her tight, and then there were his eyes. Fierce. Protective. Determined.
Her heart squeezed. She knew that look; he was going to kiss her. Here? In front of everyone? No, she thought, he wouldn’t. As he’d mentioned, their last public appearance hadn’t gone so well—
But he hauled her up to her toes and laid one on her, the kind of kiss that had her coming alive, the kind of kiss that was both too fast and yet somehow also in slow motion so she could remember every detail of it, from the feel of the warm touch of his mouth to hers to the way his arms were so tight that maybe he was never going to let go.
When he finally pulled back an inch and met her gaze, she barely heard the applause of the room over the thundering of her own heart. She could hardly draw a breath for all the terrible, burning hope flickering to life within her.
Cupping her face, Cole tilted it to his. “I’m sorry. I let you think I was furious with you. I was angry at myself that I fell for you and then didn’t know if it was real or not. I used a previous hurt and betrayal as a reason to not trust you. I shouldn’t have walked out like that without giving you a chance to explain. Let me make it up to you, and I’ll start by telling you this—you’re so precious to me, Olivia. And worth fighting for.”
Lucille sighed dreamily and turned to Amelia. “You did good with this one, honey.”
Amelia nodded. “I sure did.”
Olivia couldn’t pay attention to their audience or she’d lose it. “Cole, don’t. I can’t— Not unless you mean it—”
“I’ve never meant anything more,” he said.
She wanted to ask if that could be true, if the promises he was making were real, if she could trust how he was making her feel. But she didn’t, because Cole never did anything he didn’t mean. He meant this; he meant every second of it.
“I love the way you’re always willing to jump in feetfirst,” he said, “whether that’s into the water on top of my head—”
She choked out a half laugh, half sob.
“—Or into a party with me to meet the insanity that is my family—”
“Your family is amazing,” she said.
“It’s true,” Cara said to Lucille. “We’re all pretty amazing.”
Cole ignored this and turned back to Olivia. “You’re the amazing one,” he told her. “I wish you could see yourself the way I do. See yourself telling stories to the kids at Drama Days, or how you handle Lucky Harbor’s crazy geriatric gang—”
“Hey,” Lucille said.
“You change the chemistry in a room, Olivia,” he said, ignoring Lucille. “You make it good. And then there’s the way you have of taking the path that works for you. Even when you’re half convinced you’re going to get hurt along the way, you still go for it.”