“You don’t have to buy it, Lucky. You can stay on and help like you’ve been doing for a while longer.”

“I know the financial burden of this place has been hard on you guys. My buying you out takes that off your shoulders and gets us back on firm financial ground. It’s my time to be the one worrying about how the bills are going to get paid.”

“We’ll have Teague draw up the papers.” Hot damn. His father’s smile flashed in the dark as he rose from the wall, and Lucky grinned back in return.

“Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, son.” Owen nodded toward the direction of the house. “I’m going up to the house with the old folks.”

“I won’t tell Mom or Aunt Dolly you called them old.”

“I appreciate that. Waking up next to your mother is a pleasure I’d hate to give up.”

“Umm.” He really didn’t want to hear about his parents waking up together and anything being a pleasure.

His father laughed at his obvious discomfort and patted him on the back. “Now that you’ve found your place, work on finding a woman to share it with.”

Lucky’s gaze was immediately drawn to Taylor, her beautiful features highlighted by the light of the fire pit and her giggle floating on the wind. She hadn’t made a decision, and he promised himself he wasn’t going to push her for more than she could give.

He’d risked spooking her the other night, but it was impossible for him to avoid laying it all on the line when they’d connected on such an amazing level. Tasting her again, having her, had made him want things from her, with her, that were worth risking it all. Those things were the reason he had a ring in a blue velvet box hidden away. It was too soon for him to ask, but he knew what he wanted.

Lucky strolled away from the lake house, navigating the familiar ground until he came to the place where he’d fished and swum with his older brother. The breeze caused the tire swing to sway back and forth, the creak of the old rope mixing with the hum of the cicadas. In the gloom, he could make out the brass marker at the foot of the tree. He didn’t need to see it—the name of his brother, the date his life began, and the tragic date on which it was ended by a selfish drunk driver were etched in his memory.

The pang he felt in his chest like the sharp blade of a knife was equal parts grief and survivor’s guilt. Years of debriefing and psych evals from the finest of Marine Corps doctors had unearthed that little gem from his treasure trove of issues. He breathed in the scent of the honeysuckle growing nearby and embraced the peace of this place.

“You okay?” Taylor’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Not even turning around, he held out his hand, pulling her close when she laced her fingers with his. Lucky was afraid to speak or move. He’d rarely known perfection in his life, but this moment, with this woman—on his land—was as close to heaven as he was ever going to get.

“Good talk with your dad?” Taylor nuzzled in, tucking herself under his arm and winding hers around his waist. He leaned down, kissing the soft silk of her hair, nestling into her warmth and comfort.

“Yeah. The farm is going to be mine.”

She squeezed his middle in excitement, pushing out a little “oomph” with her enthusiasm. Propping herself on her tiptoes, she kissed him, long and deep, soft and tender. Kissing Taylor tonight, in this place, was like a benediction of his decision to stay—a blessing on his future. And he knew in his soul that his future was with her.

“Good for you,” she said when they parted.

“Thanks.” He looked out over the lake. The moon was bright on the far side, its twin shimmering in the surface of the water. “Remember that lake party right before I went to boot camp?”

“Yes. You took me to the barn…”

Lucky picked up the thread of conversation. “And I took you to the hayloft and stripped everything off this sweet body. I wanted you so bad I thought I was going to die from it.”

“You were my first,” she whispered.

Lucky froze. The sounds of the night the only thing he heard. Even their quickened breathing stopped in the moments after her revelation.

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