Of course, she couldn’t look at that picture and be sad. That was the first picture of her and Ryan together. All these years later he still had it, and in a frame, no less. She was well aware he had random pictures of them together, but knowing he felt this one was worthy of being the only one in his bedroom told her how special that moment was to him, as well. How special she was to him.
How could she deny her feelings? How could she pretend they were still just friends? The man practically worshipped her. He did everything for her, cared for her and had showed her what true friendship was all about. And isn’t that how most couples started?
The intimacy with Ryan was amazing and she hoped their new, sexual relationship continued to grow. Dare she hope for something more?
He’d stated he was ready to settle down, ready to move on to the next stage of his life and he’d made it no secret he wanted to try with her.
A piece of her truly hoped this was headed toward something permanent, something...legal. Never before had she envisioned herself married. There were so many marriages popping up around town and she’d been thrilled for each and every couple, but had never once thought this would happen to her.
But now she teetered on the brink of daydreaming about a wedding. She’d want it outside, maybe in the fall with all the beautiful colors of nature surrounding them. A simple dress because she wasn’t one to fuss over clothes.
Of course, the time and place didn’t matter so long as Ryan was the man at the end of the aisle.
A giggle bubbled up within her. God, now she’d not only started envisioning weddings, she was on the verge of giggling. Could she act more like a teen girl?
But there was something special about moving to another level with her best friend. Piper hoped all married couples experienced a fraction of the happiness she had. Ryan was home, he intended to stay and he’d made an advance with her and their relationship that she’d been terrified of, but she was so glad she’d taken that leap with him.
Rolling over with a smile, she put her hand out and encountered a still-warm sheet. She glanced at the clock. Almost seven. Those rancher cowboys were always up so blasted early.
But the smell of coffee wafted through his house and Piper pulled herself out of bed. She snagged one of his plain white T-shirts from the top of a laundry basket in the corner of his room. After sliding into it, and relishing at the coziness, she padded barefoot down the gleaming hardwood hallway toward the kitchen.
From the doorway she saw him wearing nothing but those low-slung jeans that molded to his backside beautifully, holding a coffee mug and staring out at the barn. The golden sunrise in the distance brightened the room, almost as if a new promise for the day lay ahead for them. There was happiness sliding into her life where there had once been sorrow and void. Ryan had given her hope, had given her a reason to believe again.
Piper tiptoed forward, crossing the room silently, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She loved the sexy, masculine scent that always lingered on his skin. Whether it was his soap or cologne, she didn’t know.
“Morning,” she murmured against his neck. “Have you been up long?”
He reached up, holding on to her arm. “Not really. Couldn’t sleep.”
“You could’ve woken me up.”
Turning in her arms, he reached to the side and set the mug on the small breakfast table. He wrapped his thick arms around her and pulled her against his bare chest, which had become her favorite place to rest.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” he told her. “Besides, if I’d woken you in bed and we were both naked, I think you know what would’ve happened.”
Piper peered up at him with a grin. “Would that be so bad?”
He nipped at her lips. “Not at all.”
When he eased back, Piper took in the crease between his brows, the tension in his shoulders, the near frown on his devastatingly handsome face. Something weighed heavy on his mind and he was trying to figure it out on his own. She wasn’t having any of that.
“What is it?” she asked.
Ryan smoothed a hand over her hair, pushing the wayward curls away from her face. A fruitless attempt considering her hair was a wreck in the mornings, but he seemed to be agitated or nervous about something. Being on edge was not a quality she’d ever known Ryan to possess, which told her what he hadn’t yet...something was wrong.
“You know I have strong feelings for you.”
It wasn’t a question, but he didn’t sound thrilled about the announcement, either, so Piper just nodded.