“Stop joking, you ass.” Taylor leaned over, placing her head between her legs and taking deep breaths. Her heart was hammering, her breath releasing in pants that gradually increased until she was laughing. Big gulpy laughs, sucking in air that she exhaled in a broad expansion of her chest. The stretch was good, in part soothing and in part an exercise of the tender places she’d shut down when she let Lucky go.

“He was right,” she breathed.

“Lucky?” Teague asked.

“Yes. He called me a coward. Said I was leaving him before he could leave me and he was right.” But he’d loved her anyway. Loved her enough to let down his parents, break a promise to them and walk away from his dream so that she could have hers. “I love him but I was too scared to give us a chance.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?” Teague leaned in close, his voice a conspiratorial whisper. “What can I do?”

Taylor stood, grabbing the duffel and Teague’s arm at the same time. She yanked him up and propelled him down the hallway toward the garage.

“You can give me a ride.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Taylor didn’t have any trouble finding Lucky’s heaven on earth with Teague behind the wheel.

She waved to him as he left her at the end of the old hunting trail that led to this special place. In the daytime, it was just as beautiful as the night Lucky had shared it with her and she’d made promises she’d been too chicken to keep. But she was here to fix that mistake.

Adjusting her grip on the duffel bag, she proceeded quietly in order to leave the peace undisturbed. The old-growth trees, pines and oak, made a canopy overhead that lent a reverential air to the space. She took the birdsong as a benediction of the step she was about to take.

Just beyond the truck, the tree line opened up and she saw him sitting in a chair beside the sparkling, smooth surface of the lake. His long legs, encased in jeans, were stretched out in front of him, his chest and feet bare, while he adjusted a fishing pole by his right hand. He was beautiful, as much a part of this place as the honeysuckle blooming wild by the side of the short pier. With a pang, she realized what she’d asked him to give up. This earth, this geography was part of his DNA, his soul, and he belonged here.

And she belonged with him.

“Lucky.” She spoke in a hushed tone, loath to break the spell woven over this afternoon.

He stilled, the muscles in his back tense. She could almost hear the gears in his head grinding together as the data didn’t process correctly. Very slowly, Lucky turned his head, every movement telegraphing his disbelief.

“Tay?” He sat up, not quite out of the chair, as if he thought she would disappear if he made any sudden movements. She smiled, the best she could manage with a wobbly lower lip, and took a step forward.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you on a plane?”

“Hawaii isn’t paradise anymore.” She gestured around the space, a half laugh and half sob escaping from her mouth. “I have it on good authority this is heaven on earth.”

“I think so.” Lucky swallowed hard, his expression flickering between caution and confusion.

Since he didn’t appear to be able to move, she went to him. A dozen quick steps had her right in front of him, sinking to her knees beside his chair, dropping the bag on the ground. On the drive over, she’d envisioned all the things she would say to him, the way she would grab him and never let him go again. But with him close enough to touch, her courage failed her. What if he’d changed his mind?

“Why did you leave so quickly?” she whispered.

He looked away, his gaze on the sun-dappled surface of the lake. “I thought we said everything we needed to say to each other. I didn’t want to start that all over again.”

Every cell in her body screamed to reach out and touch him, to reaffirm their connection, but she wasn’t sure if she should. Something in the set of his shoulders said he wasn’t ready.

“Teague told me what you did for me.”

He looked at her then, his eyes a deep blue. “For us.”

“He told me how you were going to give up everything—the farm, your family, this podunk little town—he told me about the money.

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