Tara gasped, afraid to hope. Gratitude wasn’t the same as lasting, forever love. It wasn’t the same as what she felt for him.

“From the first time I met you, I’ve loved your spunk, your determination, your kindness.” He leaned in close, his warm breath fanning over her face, over her lips that wanted so badly to kiss him.

“Morgan.” She wanted to beg him to kiss her, but the words were stuck in her throat.

“Your beautiful face and body.” His voice lowered. “Your heart.” He pulled back slightly, his gaze finding hers. “I fell in love with you.”

Was this real? She met his gaze and saw more than gratitude there. Heat washed over her as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight.

“Oh, Morgan. I—I was afraid to hope. You have so much in your life.”

He laughed and pulled her close. “It doesn’t mean a blessed thing without you.”

Then he kissed her. Long and hard, as if he couldn’t get enough and didn’t plan to ever stop. His words echoed in her mind. The three important ones repeated over and over.

When he finally pulled away, he looked dazed. “I—I can’t begin to hope you feel the same—”

Tara put her finger over his lips, enjoying the feel of his kiss, still soft and warm on her skin. “Don’t you even think of doubting me.” She smiled at him. “I love you, too,” she blurted. Then, because she couldn’t stand it anymore, she kissed him. Sweet and warm, she filled her kiss with every emotion she couldn’t begin to put into words.

When they stepped apart several minutes later, Brooke was standing there, staring at them. Tara’s cheeks warmed, not used to an audience. “Uh—”

“You need something, honey?” Morgan didn’t move his arms from around Tara.

“I was thinkin’. When we go to Dallas, can Tara come with us?” Brooke smiled at Tara. Morgan followed his daughter’s gaze with a look of his own.

“If she wants to.” The hesitancy in his voice hit her hard, and Tara looked closer at him. Did he want her in his day-to-day life?

“Do you want to?” the girl asked Tara. She didn’t answer, but the girl didn’t seem to notice the loaded silence that followed her question.

Tara laughed. She wanted to be with him—them—more than she’d wanted pretty much anything else. She stared at the damaged building behind her. Stared at her damaged dream.

“I—”

“Hey.” Morgan hesitantly pulled away from Tara. “Can I ask you something?” he said to Brooke, glancing only briefly at Tara.

Brooke nodded earnestly.

“What would you think about us moving to Haskins Corners?”

Brooke’s eyes grew wide, and the smile that broke over her face lit up the world. “Could we? My friend, Lisa, and me could go to school together?” The excitement in her voice was strong, like Morgan had said the right thing.

He met Tara’s gaze. “What do you think?” He slowly returned to his full height, towering over them both, engulfing Tara with the warmth of his body and love.

A loud crash made them all jump. Tara turned to see a furry ball scurry out from between the tree branches. “Ricky!” she cried. The raccoon looked a little worse for wear, but he was alive and apparently hungry.

Tara stepped over to Morgan and slid her arms around his waist, loving the feel of his solid muscles beneath her hands, relishing the feel of those even stronger arms engulfing her.

“Looks like the customers are already coming back,” she whispered. “There’s a seat at the end of the counter that wouldn’t be the same without you.”

He laughed and hugged her tight. “I’ll take it.” His lips found hers then, and she kissed him back.

She’d worked so hard—at building the diner, at finally finding the right man, at finding herself. She’d nearly lost it all, but instead…she couldn’t ask for anything more.

* * * * *

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