“Three very important people need the fuel,” I reply with a grin.
She smiles, and then her eyes fill with tears again.
“Aw, sugar, please don’t cry. It kills me when you cry.” I set her bowl of soup on the breakfast bar and then open my arms to her, and she walks willingly right inside them.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“Hey.” I cup her face in my hands and kiss her gently, reveling in the touch of her lips on mine. “Eat first, then we’ll talk.”
“Okay.” She nods and turns to the food set out for her. “Wow, this smells so good.”
“It is good. I already ate some.”
She smiles and eats her soup and sandwich with enthusiasm.
“I was hungry,” she says. “I’m always hungry these days.”
“That’s a good sign,” I reply. “You’re eating for three.”
“Good God, I’m going to be the size of this house!” she screeches.
“Probably not that big,” I reply and laugh, the knots in my stomach finally loosening.
She drags the last bite of sandwich through the last of the soup and pops it in her mouth, and I take her bowl to the sink to rinse. When I turn back to her, she has her head resting in her hand and she’s watching me quietly.
“Come on.” I take her hand and lead her to the couch in the living room. She sits in the corner, and I sit right next to her, pulling her legs up over mine. “Talk to me, sugar.”
“I don’t know where to start,” she whispers on a long sigh and closes her eyes.
“Well, I need to say this: I don’t just want to be here for moments like today, Jill. I want to be here for every moment.”
“I want that too,” she says and opens her eyes to meet mine. She bites that plump lower lip of hers and takes my hand in her own, lacing our fingers. “What you said before, when I told you I was pregnant, hurt me a lot.”
“I know. I don’t know how much more I can apologize for that.”
“You don’t have to. I’ve already forgiven you for that. I probably forgave you for it the next night when you came here and apologized.”
I frown down at her but wait for her to continue.
“But you also scared me. I mean, what if you’re right, Zack?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I am a shitty mom like Kensie? Like my own mom,” she whispers.
“You are going to be an awesome mom, sugar.”
“But I have that in me,” she replies with wide blue eyes. “My mom is horrible. More than horrible. She’s a monster. Ty doesn’t even know about some of the things she said to me when I was a kid.”
I reach down and pull her into my lap and she wraps her arms around my neck, buries her face in my neck, and continues her story.
“She didn’t encourage me to hide in the closet from my dad. She put me there because I was in her way. She resented me and never let me forget it. You see, Seth and I have more in common than you’ll ever know.”
My arms tighten around her as anger flows through me. “Why didn’t you tell Ty?”
“Because he couldn’t do anything about it. Dad would have beat him until he should have been in the hospital.”
“Oh, baby.” I kiss her head and stroke my hands soothingly down her back. “How could you ever think that you could be that way with our babies? With Seth? Look at how fiercely you protected him against Kensie. You would die for my boy, Jilly.”
Just remembering the sight of her pushing Seth behind her while she attacked Kensie both humbles and infuriates me. She should never have been in that position in the first place.
“I love him,” she says and swallows hard. “I love you both.”
“Do you still love me?” I whisper and push her back so I can look in her eyes.
“So much,” she replies. “I’ve missed you.”
I cup her face gently and kiss her softly, barely grazing my lips over hers, then nibbling the side of her mouth, the way I do that always makes her grin. I kiss her cheek and pull my nose down her jaw, taking in a deep breath of her fresh scent.
“God, I missed you too, sugar,” I growl. “Last night was the last night we’ll ever spend apart. Understand?”
“Moving in with me?” she asks sassily and brushes happy tears off her cheeks.
“No, you’re moving in with me. You have a kitchen remodel to oversee, and my kid misses you.”
“He likes me.” She shrugs and grins. “What else?”
“What else?” I pretend that I don’t know what she’s talking about.
“Yes. What else?”
“Well . . .” I tilt my head from side to side, as though I’m thinking about her question very seriously. “We can live in sin for the next sixty years.”
She smacks my arm and laughs. “I’m not talking about marriage.”
She sobers and blinks, surprised.
“My life has been so much better since the day I found you,” I begin and swallow hard as I think of the words I want to say. “I’ve met many people in my life. I’ve watched some of them die. Lost touch with others. There are few people in my life that I feel permanently connected to, who fit into the puzzle that is my life. My son. My parents. Josh, Ty, and Cara.
“Now these two new babies.” I rub her belly gently and smile up into her eyes. “And you. I want the parts of you that you refuse to give anyone else, Jill. I can’t imagine anything better in this life than sharing it with you. Choosing you, every day.”
I brush a tear off her cheek with my fingertip, then cradle her face in my hand, rubbing my thumb over the apple of her cheek.
“You’re mine. You belong on the ranch with Seth and me, and I’m never letting you go ever again. I’ll screw up.” I cringe and shake my head. “I will make mistakes, but you have to know that of every person that drifts in and out of your life, no one will ever love you the way I do.”
“Did you just ask me to marry you?” she whispers.
“If the answer is yes, then yes, I did.”
She smiles and pulls her fingertips down my cheek.
“My answer is yes. As long as we can do it before I’m too big to fit into a dress.”
“I’ll marry you tomorrow, my love.”
— OCTOBER —
“Are you ready for visitors?” Hannah asks as she finishes checking me and assuring me that I am good to go. “You have quite a lineup out there.”