Her head snaps up and she meets my gaze. “I think I’m the one who owes you an apology.” She sighs. “I overreacted, and while I stand by what I said when I told you I didn’t want you to buy me anything, it wasn’t fair for me to imply that you’d use the spa as leverage in our marriage.”

I lean back in my chair. “Thank you. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you all those times you told me you didn’t want me to buy you anything. But, Brinley, in my mind, the only difference between the guy who was in love with you then and the guy who’s in love with you now is money. I have it, fucking plenty of it, but in every other way, I’m the same person. I love you as much as I did then and in the same way—with every fucking piece of me. And I say this knowing damn well it probably indicates I need some serious therapy sessions, but I need you to understand.” My whole body feels like it’s vibrating, as if my brain is so determined to deliver these words that it’s putting physical energy behind them. “Who I was then, in high school—he wasn’t enough, and this is the only way I could bridge the gap between who I was and the kind of guy your parents always wanted for you. The kind of guy I thought maybe you wouldn’t have shoved out of your life.”

“I figured that out,” she says, staring at her hands.

Then why are you here with fucking paperwork? “You were right to be angry with me. I see that now. I shouldn’t have made any assumptions about our life or about whether or not you even wanted to be with me . . . let alone where we’d live or where you’d work if we did. It’s just . . .” I take another sip of my brandy, willing its warmth to calm some of this frenetic energy that’s making it hard to stay seated. “You were so convinced we wouldn’t work because of where I live. I thought if I could fix that . . .” I take another sip of my brandy to stop my own rambling.

It’s over, and I need to let her go. I don’t want her walking out of here feeling heavy with guilt. I’ve had enough chances with Brinley Knox. If I haven’t made it work by now, that’s on me.

She lifts her gaze. “I want to circle back to this—the gifts and the plans. But first . . .” She taps the folder in front of her. “Can we look at this?”

My stomach cramps hard. “Whatever you want.”

She squares her shoulders and blows out a breath, then opens the folder.

I frown at the heading on the top of the first sheet. It’s a business proposal. For the purchase of The Orchid.

“I’ve wanted to buy The Orchid for years, but as I’m sure you know, the original owners refused to consider anything but a cash offer, and my credit is worse than shit.”

“This is about The Orchid?” I ask. Because if I hope and I’m wrong, it might destroy me.

“Hear me out?” she asks, flashing a tentative smile. I nod, and she continues. “I spoke with Alec, who was able to give me good information about market rates and what kind of return you might expect on an investment like this. Since he had the information in your system from your work at The Orchid, he was also able to help me by doing a quick analysis and providing me with a conservative time frame in which the spa could pay for itself.” She lifts her eyes to mine. “I didn’t want you to buy me the spa. I wanted to buy it myself. But since that didn’t work out, I’d like you to sell it to me on contract, essentially acting as the seller and the bank, and allowing me to use The Orchid’s profits over the course of ten years to buy it. Of course, there are substantial risks to you agreeing to a deal like this, including any unforeseen economic downturn that could profoundly affect business or a competitor coming in.”

“I know the numbers,” I say. I’m practically staring a hole in the damn contract, because I need to know what’s beneath it. “You run a tight ship, and your growth trajectory is incredible. What you’re describing is feasible and done frequently when small businesses are sold.”

“That’s what Alec said too,” she says. She turns her head to look out the dining room windows, and her earrings catch in the light. “It’s important to me that this is the kind of deal you’d take from anyone and not a special concession you’re making for me.”

“It . . .” Those earrings. That necklace. She’s not just wearing the shoes I bought her in Vegas. She’s wearing the jewelry too, and hope makes my chest swell.

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