“Thanks, man, I’d appreciate that.”

“No worries.” Noah shrugs.

The rest of the evening passes with great food and laughter and good conversation, but I still can’t wait to get Leah to myself again. After we say goodbye to everyone, I put her in my truck and take her home, where I show her how much she means to me, using her body and mine to accomplish my goal.

“Sorry, man, can’t get drinks tonight,” I tell Scott. I’m holding my cell to my ear as I walk across the lot to my truck after work. “I’m taking Leah out to dinner. It’s Friday and one of the only nights she and I have got before we head to Tennessee for Thanksgiving.” I’ve been looking forward to this dinner since the fire and my sister showing up unexpectedly. I’m filled with anticipation about seeing just what she’ll wear tonight and then planning exactly how I’ll get her out of it after we get home. Just the thought makes my palms itch.

“I get it.” I hear the smile in his tone. “When you get back, we’ll meet up.” After a few moments, he asks, “Are you gonna be okay being at home with your family? With them meeting Leah?” Scott and I have been friends since high school, so he knows how my mom can be. I despise the sudden feeling in my stomach. A feeling of unease that I shouldn’t have when it comes to introducing my parents—mainly my mother—to the woman I’ve fallen in love with.

“Leah will be with me, so even if it’s not okay, it will be okay.” That’s the truth. Leah has a way of centering me, of bringing me happiness.

“All right, man, let me know if you need anything.”

“Will do—later.”

“Yeah, later.” He hangs up, and I get behind the wheel and reverse out of my parking spot. I pick up a dozen pink roses before I head home. Leah texted earlier to let me know Bruce was with her, which wasn’t a surprise. He’s become her loyal companion, and just like me, he fell for her quickly. When I get home, I shower and change, then head to Leah’s house with the flowers in tow. She gave me her key a couple of weeks ago, so I let myself in, and Bruce greets me at the door. “Hey, buddy.” I rub the top of his head. “Where’s our girl?” He moves toward the hall as I head through the house, and I drop the flowers in the kitchen.

Leah’s place doesn’t have the same layout as mine. Where my living room and kitchen are one large open space, her living room is separated from her kitchen and dining room by curved archways leading to both spaces. Her two bedrooms are down a short hall, and she has a full basement that’s unfinished except for a small room containing a washer and dryer.

Music is coming from Leah’s bedroom. I push open the door and lean against the doorjamb, watching her bend at the waist to buckle the strap of one of her black suede heels. She stands, sliding her hands over her full hips, and the formfitting deep-blue sweater dress she has on shows off every curve. I bite back a groan as I take her in. Jesus, she’s beautiful. She’s always so damn beautiful, and it’s hard to believe she’s mine. When she sees me standing inside the doorway, she freezes, then bites the inside of her cheek as I walk toward her. When I’m close enough, I grab her hips and lower my face toward hers.

“You look beautiful.”

“Thanks.” She smiles bashfully, ducking her head. How a woman who looks like her can be bashful is mind boggling.

“Are you ready to go?”

“I just need to change out my purse.” She looks up at me. “It’ll only take a minute.”

“All right.” I kiss her forehead. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

“Sure.” She leans toward me, and I smile before kissing her lips.

She stops me when I start to pull away. She whispers, “Hold on,” as her eyes drop to my mouth. She lifts her hand and slides her thumb across my lips, then smiles. “There.” She shows me the lipstick on the edge of her thumb.

I want to drag her back against me and kiss her again and ruin her lipstick, but we don’t have time. As soon as I get to the kitchen, Mouse jumps from his hiding spot on top of the cabinets. I barely catch him and rub the top of his head before setting him on the counter to give him a couple of treats.

Leah’s heels click on the hardwood a moment later before she comes around the corner, smiling. “You’re going to make him fat if you keep giving him so many treats.”

“Should I tell you the same thing about Bruce?” Her nose scrunches in response, making me grin.

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