“You sure this isn’t a sex dream?” she asked.
He flashed that grin she loved. “Sometimes. Lots of times,” he admitted. His fingers were loosely fisted in her hair, like he’d really missed the craziness of it. “Other times it’s your laugh. And the way you have of disagreeing with everything I say—”
“I do not!”
He laughed and kissed her pouty mouth. “Okay,” he said. “But you do.” He touched her face, his own going serious. “When I first came back to Cedar Ridge, I didn’t think I deserved to be loved by any of my family. By anyone,” he said. “And I sure as hell didn’t deserve you. But I realized I was wrong, that I was my own worst enemy.”
She was impressed by his growth, and proud. And…envious. “When did you figure all this out?” she asked. “Was it a hammer-over-the-head moment, or was it more gradual?” She genuinely needed to know. Her entire life had been a whole bunch of clusterfuck moments until it’d all sunk in. She needed to know how it was for him. She didn’t want this to be just about the boat fire, about him nearly losing her, because she didn’t see it like that. Yes, the fire had been awful, and she’d be dealing with the ramifications for a long time to come, but she hadn’t almost died. She would have gotten out on her own. So she didn’t want him back in her arms because of a single incident. She wanted him because he couldn’t live without her.
“No hammer,” he said. “Just a series of gradual moments, starting that first day when you dropped a pink vibrator at my feet.”
She narrowed her eyes. “That wasn’t my vibrator!”
He laughed, and she knew it was because she was arguing with him again. “And,” he went on, “I really liked it when you tried to tell me why your boat should be allowed to break the rules and moor overnight on the lake.”
“It’s a stupid rule!”
He was still smiling, a contagious, warm, sexy smile. “And then there was when you got trashed by the Scotch—”
“Okay, that wasn’t drunk,” she said. “That was…cozily tipsy.”
“And watching you make friends with Kenna. Or when you gave Chris’s name to Hud to get him here for this weekend. It was when you told me about your past and let me in. All those things added up to me loving you,” he said. “I just couldn’t imagine deserving you to love me back.”
She felt her smile fade, and she reached up and set her hands on his jaw. “Jacob,” she murmured, her heart breaking. “Jacob, I—”
He set a finger on her mouth, halting her words. “But then I realized something,” he whispered as he slowly traced her lower lip. “I couldn’t expect you to return my feelings if I couldn’t let you in.” He dropped his finger and replaced it with his mouth.
“You ruined me with all the openness,” she murmured against his lips. “The communication.”
He grinned. “I ruined you in all sorts of other ways too. And you liked them, every single one of them.”
She flushed and gave him a little push that didn’t so much as budge him. “Full of yourself much?”
“How unlike you,” she said.
His grin widened, and his hold on her tightened. “I learned it from this amazing, headstrong, selfless, sexy-as-all-get-out woman I’ve been hanging out with lately…”
She was laughing as she shook her head and pulled his down to hers. “Smug bastard,” she said, and kissed him.
“Does that mean you can’t live without me?”
“It means that you can’t live without me,” she corrected.
He let out a low laugh. “Oh, baby, don’t I know it.” He cupped her face. “I love you, Soph. The forever kind of love that survives stupid fights and transcends time and place.”
Her heart kicked hard, racing, pounding in all her pulse points. “Are you asking me to wait for you?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitation.
She’d asked the question, so it was silly to suddenly need a moment, but she did. She pulled at his shirt, trying to get it over his head, but he caught her wrists in his.
“I want you to stay,” he said. “Here. In the cabin.” His eyes were fierce, his body hard. He wasn’t playing.
Leaning in, she kissed his stern mouth. “I don’t really know how to do this, Jacob. Just because it’s hard for me to speak my feelings doesn’t mean I don’t feel them. Because I do. I love you.”