“You’re watching me,” I reply. “That’s not good enough.”

“This isn’t like last time. We’ll be able to see each other.”

“When?” I demand.

“As soon as the hoopla around me and the cylinder passes.”

My jaw clenches. “That’s a non-answer.”

“It’s the only one I have.”

“Translation: in another six years.”

“No,” he hisses out. “I hated leaving you alone, Amy. It destroyed me to know you were alone and I couldn’t be there for you.”

Angry words are on my tongue, ready to explode. But life has taught me that today’s faux funeral could too easily be real tomorrow, so I bite them back. “Just . . . just don’t die for real, damn it.”

“I have no intention of dying, and every reason to live. Like you do. When are you getting married?”

“He hasn’t asked,” I say, avoiding a topic that shouldn’t feel uncertain but does.

“Because you told him you wouldn’t until this was over.”

My defenses flare. “Do you blame me?”

“It’s over, Amy. Marry the man.”

“I need a day or two after ‘burying’ my brother to believe this is over,” I snap, irritated that he would think I could just shut off six years of worry, especially when Liam is in this because of me.

“You’ve had six years of this hell. Don’t waste another day, let alone two.”

My tension eases a notch with his acknowledgment of the past. “That applies to you, too. What about you and Gia? What are your plans?”

“To convince myself that I’m worthy of her.” He sighs. “I don’t want to hang up, but we’re about to get on a plane. Don’t ask to where; I can’t tell you. I love you, sis.”

“I love you, too,” I say, and the line goes dead. He’s not dead, though, even though that horrific casket felt like the end in all kinds of ways.

“Well?” Liam asks, kneeling in front of me, his hands settling on my knees.

“You were right,” I admit, handing him back his phone. “I needed to hear his voice.”

“And you didn’t yell,” he observes.

“I should have. He deserved yelling.”

“We can call back.”

I inhale and let it out, shaking my head. “I’ll save it for next time.”

“Does that mean you believe there will be a next time?”

“Yes. No.” I hesitate. “I don’t know what to expect with Chad. We’ll see, I guess.”

He studies me a long moment before surprising me with, “I know what you told him about us.”

I blink. “What?”

“You told him I hadn’t asked you to marry me.”

Feeling like a deer in the headlights, I stammer. “I . . . Yes, but . . .”

“Do you know why I haven’t asked, Amy?”

“I told you not to.” But some part of me is trembling inside, in denial of some fear I haven’t allowed myself to realize.

“Do you really think that I’d let your fear determine when I asked you to marry me?”

And there it is. The unrealized fear, now realized. No. He wouldn’t. Liam Stone goes after everything he wants.

“I haven’t asked you because we’re better than a proposal in a safe house,” he says. “I love you too damn much for that.”

It’s a good answer. Why do I want more? “I know you love me,” I say quickly.

“Why is there a silent ‘but’ behind that statement?”

And I know the answer, acknowledging the root of my fear now. “My life has impacted every moment of yours since we met. It seems like a poor reward for saving me in a time of need.”

“Amy. Baby. It’s you who saved me—and if I haven’t shown you that, I’ve failed you.”

“You say that because you love me. And I selfishly want you to keep loving me. But Chad reminded me of how uncertain everything in my life up to this point has been.”

I wait for a reply, not sure what I expect. He stares at me, his aqua eyes flecked with an emotion I can’t quite identify. Is he angry with me? At Chad? My fingers twist in my lap. “You’re upset.”

“Damn straight I’m upset.” He stands, taking me with him, and before I know his intent, he’s thrown me over his shoulder, his arm a bracket over my legs, and starts walking.

Shocked and disoriented, I grab at the bottom of his suit jacket as blood rushes to my head. My shoes fall off. My hair drapes over my face and I’m swiping it away as we enter the master bedroom, the lights automatically dimming to a low, seductive glow, the moonlight and stars reflecting off the river just outside the wall of windows.

Liam sets me on my feet beside the bed, towering over me a good foot without my shoes, his fingers twining in my hair, forcing my gaze to his. “We are not uncertain. I will not let your fear destroy us. I’d propose right now, but I won’t do that on the night you pretended to bury your brother. And for the record—Chad did this for the right reasons, but he handled it like hell with you. If he was here right now, I’d punch him.”

“You?” I laugh, the tension sliding away. “Mr. Control himself?”

“I’d win. That’s control.”

“If anyone gets to hit my brother, it’s me. You don’t get to take that away.”

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