She stared at him, absorbed the cocky words, and had to laugh. Hope might be the one taking classes this summer, but the truth was, Mia was the one getting several life lessons. One, there was something a little terrifying and a lot arousing about a man so damn sure of himself. Two, keeping a man like that would never be boring.
And three, she’d missed him with all she had, heart and soul. She missed him so damn much she didn’t want to be alone tonight. Or any night. She wanted him in the same bed, in the same house.
Day in and day out. “And then you kept wanting more,” she said. “And even though in theory it sounded exciting and right and good, I wasn’t ready.”
“I tried to give you the time you needed. I even understood your need to have it. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“So were you always on to me?” she asked. “From the beginning?”
“See,” she said with a catch in her throat. “That’s what gets me, right there. You saw right through me and my neurosis, and you still liked me.”
That brought out a smile. “How do you know I like you?”
“That’s right.” His voice was low and so achingly familiar she wanted to crawl into his lap, but he still hadn’t touched her. “I said. I always say what I mean, Mia. What I feel. No pretense. No hidden meaning. No games.”
“I know.” Oh, God, her voice cracked now. Her eyes burned. “That’s new for me. But, Kevin, it’s very, very welcome.”
“So welcome you walked away.”
“Actually, technically, I believe it was you who walked,” she said much lighter than she felt.
“Whatever lets you sleep at night,” he said wearily and closed his eyes again.
She looked into his face, rugged, rangy, tough, and yet kind. The kindest face she’d ever known. He gave and gave and gave, to his family, to his students, to anyone who was in need.
Who gave to him?
She sure as hell hadn’t, and the shame of that nearly choked her. “I’m not. Sleeping at night,” she added.
His eyes opened again.
Slowly she shook her head. “It’s my own fault. I screwed up with you so badly. I mean, for someone so determined to be careful, to do everything perfectly, could I have done worse?”
He winced. “Mia—”
“No, you’ve got to hear me out on this one. I was so busy keeping you in a certain area of my life—”
“Which is to say the na**d area.”
Now it was her turn to wince. “Yeah, I sure did my best to keep you na**d. To keep it just sex. I managed to do that for approximately five seconds.”
That got his attention. He looked right at her, and she rushed to keep going, for once in her life to get it right. “You see, I always knew,” she said, her voice pitchy and uneven.
“That I loved you.” The words felt rusty in her mouth, assuring her that she had not said them enough. “I do love you,” she whispered. “So much.”
His eyes darkened. “While those are very welcome words, I’ve learned love isn’t always enough.”
“No. Not when one of us is holding back, trying to keep herself from sinking in too deep. But I’ve finally realized, I’m not drowning at all, because no matter how deep or hard I fall, you’re there with me.”
He stared at her for a beat, then snagged her h*ps and tugged so that she fell over the top of him.
She put her hands on his chest and smiled up into his face. “See? You broke my fall.”
He let out a low laugh, shook his head as if to clear it. “Spell this out for me, Mia. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that maybe you’re not the only one who can make changes.”
Though his eyes remained serious, his lips curved. “You’re going to stop folding your underwear?”
“Okay, smart-ass. I’m trying to say something here.”
“Then spit it out.”
“I made you feel as if there wasn’t room in my life for you, but there is.” Sliding her fingers into his hair, she tightened her grip just a little, and kissed him. “I want to take the next step. I want to be with you, only you. And hold on to something, Ace, because here comes the biggie. I think I might someday actually want that whole white dress, white cake thing.”
His eyes widened. His fingers tightened on her hips. No doubt he was leaving more flour stains on the Dolce & Gabbana, but she couldn’t care less. “You mean—”
“I know you didn’t ask me, but since I’m doing everything upside down and ass backward, I thought it’d be fitting if I asked you.” The waterworks were threatening again, but she blinked them back. “Will you have me, Kevin? Through thick and thin and cookie dough parties? Through better or worse, or worse-est?”
“Wait,” she said quickly, not wanting him to say no yet. “You’re probably having doubts that I mean all this, doubts that I could let go enough to love you as much as you love me. But I can, Kevin. I—”
“Mia,” he said again, with such tenderness it blindsided her. He framed her face with his hands. “I don’t have any doubts. You just take my breath, is all.”
She stared into his eyes and felt herself smile, at peace for the first time in…ever. Sliding down, she snuggled in close and pressed her face into his throat, breathing him in, holding him tight enough that their hearts beat in unison. “I don’t either anymore. Not a single one…”