“Why are you saying this? Why would you want this?”
“Kerry.” He moved closer again, reaching out to stroke her cheek. “You know why. You know why I want to take a chance on you. Because you want to take a chance on me, too.”
“No.” Her voice sounded strangled as she repeated the two-letter word. “My mother took a chance on a guy like you and ended up all alone with two babies. My sister took a chance on a guy like you and drank herself into worse and worse situations every weekend until he finally deigned to come back home to her for a little while.”
“Do you really think I’m like those guys?” He looked disgusted by the thought. “Don’t you know me at all by now?”
“Of course I know you, Adam. You’re a great person. You’re a great friend. But you’ll never be relationship material. You were the one who was totally clear with me from the first moment about not wanting a relationship. About not wanting a girlfriend, or God forbid, a wife.”
“Well, maybe I’ve changed my mind!”
“Maybe?” His voice had boomed out across her foyer, where they were still standing, but so did hers as she shot the word back at him and whirled out of his arms. “That’s exactly why I’ve tried to be so careful not to fall in love with you. Because I refuse to ever be any man’s maybe!”
He reached for her again, even as she moved farther away. “I said the wrong word, Kerry.”
“No, you said exactly what you think. What you feel. And I’m glad you did, because I’ve never wanted the two of us to lie to each other.”
“Then we’d better not lie about this.”
Before she could blink or breathe or move, he kissed her again. And then again and again, until her head was spinning from the taste and feel and wonder of him.
When he finally dragged his mouth from hers, his voice was raw as he said, “There’s no maybe about the heat between us.”
She stared into his eyes, dilated to an even darker brown now, and admitted, “I know.” But focusing on the ridiculous amounts of heat they’d always generated together wouldn’t help get them back on level ground. So she made herself push the heat back, and bring the prudence that she’d always lived her life by until meeting Adam back into the forefront again.
“Meeting your cousin at the hotel tonight really drove home the point that things can’t be weird between us at the wedding next week. So I think it’s for the best that we end things as friends. Friends who had great sex for a little while. But in the end, just friends. And since you’ll be heading up to the lake this weekend to work on the gazebo, it’s probably best if we just end that part of our relationship now.”
He didn’t say anything for a few long moments, and she thought that maybe he would let her go. And then she could shut the door behind him and let the tears she was holding back fall for everything she was making herself give up in the name of protecting her heart.
“I am your friend, Kerry. I’ll always be your friend.” He tightened his hold on her. “But I’m also in love with you.”
Oh God, how could she have been more wrong? He hadn’t been planning to let her go. Instead, he’d planned to pull out every card he could possibly play.
Even the last-resort love card.
“You don’t—” Her heart wasn’t beating right, and her breath couldn’t quite make it in and out of her lungs. “You don’t love me.”
“Yes, I do. I love you, Kerry. I was planning to tell you tonight. Not like this, though. I was going to tell you when we were up in our suite, with champagne, when I thought everything was going to be perfect. And when I thought—” It was the first time she’d ever seen him look even the slightest bit vulnerable. “I thought you were going to say it back to me. I thought this was going to be our new beginning.”
Again, she could barely find words, couldn’t manage anything but shaking her head and saying, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, just love me back, damn it!” The force behind his words hit her so hard she was surprised she didn’t fly back into the living room. “You do love for a living. How can you not know? Can you really not see? And are you really still that scared that I’ll turn out to be like your father or like Colleen’s boyfriend?”
She wanted to tell him she wasn’t scared. But that wasn’t true, so she told him what was. “I’m just being realistic.”
“How the hell do you call refusing to believe that I love you realistic?”
“What you think you’re feeling for me right now—it will fade. And when it does, you’ll still be the man who told me flat-out that he’s not looking for forever with anyone.”
“I wasn’t looking for forever. But then I met you and everything changed. You’ve got to believe me. You just said it—I’ve never lied to you.”
So much of what he was saying was making sense. And yet, what if she let herself believe that the reformed rake was real—and then it turned out that his declarations tonight were simply coming from a thwarted urge to claim her in front of his cousin? Or were the crazy-hot hormones from their kiss talking? Or was it simply the fact that she was the only woman who had ever challenged or said no to him?
When she didn’t say anything—all her thoughts were way too jumbled to be able to straighten them out into words—he said, “I know you’ve never lied to me, so I’m just going to ask you one more question tonight. Do you love me, Kerry?”
She swallowed hard. It had all seemed so simple at first. They were just going to have sex. It was going to be fun and exciting. And mean nothing.
But nothing had turned into everything from their very first kiss. From the first time he’d held her in his arms. From the first time she’d looked into his dark, intense eyes and been helpless to look away.
She couldn’t stop her tears from falling. “Maybe.” More tears fell, fast and hot down her cheeks. “Maybe,” she said again, the only word she could get out.
He’d never touched her more gently than when he wiped away her tears, smiled down at her, and said softly, “You’re not a maybe kind of woman. Just the way you once told me I’m not a maybe kind of man.”
Her brain was in tangles, and her heart was in tatters. Still, she tried to hold on to the one thing she’d promised herself, and Adam, that they wouldn’t ruin.
“Are we—” It was hard to talk past the tears clogging her throat. “Are we still friends?”
“Yes.” He didn’t pause, didn’t need to think about it for even a split second. “Always.”
Relief flooded her. Relief that she hadn’t ruined everything after all.
“I’ll always be your friend, too,” she told him. “Always.”
And as they stood facing each other in her foyer, it finally hit her that they’d had their last time together already...and she hadn’t even known it. Hadn’t had a chance to savor every last moment in his arms.
Regret swamped her. Regret so strong it was like a physical pain slamming straight into the center of her chest.
Just weeks ago, she’d found herself standing in front of him and saying, One night. Now—too soon—she found herself saying, “One last time.”