She gave him a small smile. “It’s a gift.”
Leaning over the table, he wrapped his fingers around her wrist and pulled the bag of corn from her face. Gently he touched her cheekbone. “You okay?”
“I will be.”
Her resilience made him smile. “Yeah?” he asked. “And how’s that?”
She shrugged a shoulder. “Well, it’s raining, and I love the rain. Someone sent me a basket of muffins, and I love muffins. Thor is actually clean and going to stay that way for at least the next few minutes. I don’t have to work until midday tomorrow. And I have company.” She smiled. “The good kind.” She lifted a shoulder. “It’s all good.”
She was aiming for light and she’d succeeded. It was how she dealt, he got that. And he was getting something else too—that he could learn a hell of a lot from her.
She rose from her chair and came around the table. She lifted Thor from his lap and set the dog down. Then she climbed into Finn’s lap herself and cupped his face.
His arms closed around her and one thought settled into his brain. This feels right.
She feels right.
Pru lifted her gaze to Finn’s, startled by the sudden intensity in his gaze. It said she wasn’t alone, that she mattered, a lot.
At least you’re not the only one falling . . .
This thought was a cool tall drink of relief immediately followed by a chaser of anxiety.
Because she hadn’t meant for this to happen. She hadn’t meant for any of it; his attention, his affection, his emotional bond . . . and all of it was a secret dream come true for her.
Just as all of it was now a nightmare as well, because how was she supposed to give it up? Give him up?
Although the tough truth was, she wouldn’t have to. Telling him the truth would accomplish that because he would give her up once she did.
She’d known they’d be getting to this. She hadn’t missed him looking at her cheek, or the temper that flashed in his eyes whenever he did. “It’s—”
“Not nothing. Don’t even think about saying it’s nothing.” His voice was gentle but inexorable steel.
“My grandfather’s in a senior home,” she said. “Has been for years. I visit him every week but he doesn’t always recognize me.”
“He hit you?” he asked, his voice still calm, his gaze anything but.
“No.” She shook her head. “Well, not exactly.”
“Then what exactly?”
“He was trying to get me to leave,” she said. “He threw the stuff on his lunch tray at me.”
His brow furrowed. “What the fuck?”
“It’s that sometimes he thinks I’m my mom,” she said. “He didn’t like her.”
Finn’s fingers slid into her hair, soothing, protective, and she felt herself relax a little into his touch.
“Why not?” he asked quietly.
“She . . .” Pru closed her eyes and pressed her face to his throat. “She was a good-time girl. She loved to have fun. My dad loved to give her that fun. We spent a lot of time out on the water and at Giants games, his two favorite things.”
He smiled. “And you’re still out on the water.”
She nodded. “It makes me feel close to them. I used to tell my dad I was going to captain a ship someday, which must have sounded ridiculous but he told me I could do anything I wanted.” She paused. “I loved them, very much, but in some ways my grandpa was right. My mom encouraged my dad. The truth is they were partyers, and big social drinkers . . .”
“Is that why you never drink?”
“A big part of it,” she admitted for the first time in her life. “Is that weird for you, being with someone who doesn’t drink?”
He palmed her neck and waited until she looked at him. “Not even a little bit,” he said.
She smiled. “My dad used to say my mom was the light to his dark. He loved that about her. He loved her,” she said, her chest tight at the memory of her mom making him laugh. “They loved each other.”
There was empathy in Finn’s eyes and in his touch. Empathy, and affection, and a grim understanding. He’d had losses too. Far too many.
“I’m glad you have those memories of your mom and dad together,” he said. “I know it sucks having them gone, but at least when you think of them, you smile.”
Mostly. But not always. Not, for instance, when she thought of how they’d died.