“Yeah.” He slid a hand to the nape of her neck and drew her in for a quick kiss. “I love your cup-half-full, rose-colored-glasses, fight-for-what-you-want ’tude.”
“I thought you liked quiet and calm,” she said. “And we both know I’m anything but.”
“I’m quiet and calm,” he said, “but I don’t need that in you. In you, I love the chaos. I love waking up next to you and thinking, ‘Good Christ, what next?’”
She smacked him and he laughed, catching her hands in his. “You’re an adventure, Sophie, and I love an adventure.”
She sucked in a breath because he kept using that L word.
He took in her reaction and slid his hands down her back to cup her bottom, squeezing her cheeks. “Would you like to take a guess at what else I love?” he asked.
“Um…” Her heart was suddenly pounding in her ears. “Frozen pizzas, chopping wood, and your crazy siblings?” she asked more than a little breathlessly.
“All that,” he agreed. “But something else. Something big.”
He smiled and pulled her arms out from beneath her so that she fell onto his chest. “Nice try.” He kissed her, short but most definitely not sweet. “You,” he said against her lips. “I love you, Sophie, just as you are. Not quiet, not calm, and most definitely not easy.”
She went utterly still. When was the last time she’d heard those three little words from a man who’d meant it? When was the last time the simple but devastating statement had something deep inside her welling up, filling her heart and soul?
He just continued to look at her, patient. Steady as a rock.
Everything she was not. She gnawed on her lower lip. “You said we weren’t going to do love.”
“No, you said that. Not me.”
“But you agreed,” she whispered.
He shrugged. “I should’ve known better. Nothing goes according to plan around you. You told me not to fall for you no matter how lovable you were. I overestimated my ability to resist you. The end.”
She stared at him. “There’s a chance I already love you,” she whispered. “But you scare the hell out of me.”
His mouth quirked. “I’m aware of that.”
She stared at him. “What, that I love you, or that you scare me?”
“That I scare you,” he said, “but good to know you love me.”
“I said there’s a chance,” she clarified.
He smiled. “I heard you.”
“I don’t love easily,” she warned. The understatement of the year, of course.
Jacob nodded. “I get that too.”
“Do you also get that I don’t want to love at all?”
This he didn’t say anything to, but she could read him every bit as well as he could read her, and she sighed. “Okay, that’s a lie,” she admitted. “I want to. I want to love you. And parts of me already do. Quite madly.”
He smiled. “I’ll take those parts for now,” he said easily.
No frustration. No annoyance at her pace. No sign of anything but the easy acceptance of what she could give. And his patience wasn’t a sham either. It was totally real. He loved her enough to let her catch up. He loved her enough to wait. No one had ever loved her like that before, and it stole her breath and her ability speak for a minute. For the first time in her life she had someone who was in just as deep as she was.
And suddenly that wasn’t scary at all.
A night breeze made its way through the shutters and drifted over them, cooling their overheated bodies.
Sophie felt enveloped, protected in a way that didn’t smother, and she relaxed into the mattress and sighed, heart full.
She felt him smile against her and rolled her head against his shoulder to meet a pair of warm brown eyes studying her in the low light.
“Tired?” she asked, shifting to face him, touching his jaw, dark with a beyond-five-o’clock shadow.
He shook his head. He wasn’t tired.
Neither was she. “Hungry?”
His eyes revealed a smile as he watched her like maybe she was his breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. “Not for food,” he said, making her laugh.
But the laugh backed up in her throat, replaced by another wave of heat and desire when he tucked her beneath him, making it clear what he was hungry for.
The next morning Jacob woke up like he always did, quickly and immediately. That was the military training ingrained in him—never sleep too heavily, never be caught vulnerable and unaware.