"He needs you around. He—"

"I'll visit. And I'm hoping he'll be allowed to come see me occasionally." She'd worked it all out in her head, and now she turned to smile at him. "I promised to take him to a Yankees game next spring."

It was as if it were already done, he realized, struggling against that panic. As if she were already gone. "You've talked to him about it."

"Yes, I thought I should let him know."

"And this is how you let me know?" he shot back. "It's been nice, pal, see you around?"

"I'm not sure I'm following."

"Nothing. Nothing to follow." He walked away. He wanted his own life back, too, didn't he? Here was his chance.

End of complications. All he had to do was wish her well and wave good-bye. "That's what I want. It's always been what I wanted."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm not looking for anything else. Neither one of us was." He whirled back to her, temper glinting in his eyes. "Right?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"You've got your life, I've got mine. We just followed the current, and here we are. Time to get out of the water."

No, she decided, she wasn't following him. "All right."

"Well, then." Assuring himself that he was fine with it, he was calm. He was even pleased. He started back toward her.

The last of the sun shimmered over her hair, into those impossibly clear eyes, shadowed the hollow of her throat above the collar of her blouse. "No." He heard himself say it, and his mouth went dry.

"No?"

"A minute, just one minute." He walked away again, this time to the edge of the water. He stood there, staring down like a man contemplating diving in well over his head. "What's wrong with Baltimore?"

"Baltimore? Nothing."

"It's got museums, good restaurants, character, theater."

"It's a very nice city," Sybill said cautiously.

"Why can't you work there? If you have to go into New York for a meeting, you can hop the shuttle or the train. Hell, you can drive it in under four hours."

"I'm sure that's true. If you're suggesting I relocate to Baltimore—"

"It's perfect. You'd still be living in the city, but you'd be able to see Seth whenever you wanted."

And you, she thought, yearning toward the picture. But she shook her head. It would kill her to go on this way. And she knew it would spoil the happiness she'd had, the new self she'd discovered. "It's just not practical, Phillip."

"Of course it's practical." He turned around, strode back to her. "It's perfectly practical. What's impractical is going back to New York, putting up that distance again. It's not going to work, Sybill. It's just not going to work."

"There's no point in discussing it now."

"Do you think this is easy for me?" he exploded. "I have to stay here. I have commitments, responsibilities, to say nothing of roots. I've got no choice. Why can't you bend?"

"I don't understand."

"I have to spell it out? Damn it." He took her by the shoulders, gave her a quick, impatient shake. "Don't you get it? I love you. You can't expect me to let you walk away. You have to stay. The hell with your life and my life. Your family, my family. I want our life. I want our family."

She stared at him, the blood ringing in her ears. "What? What?"

"You heard what I said."

"You said… you said you loved me. Do you mean it?"

"No, I'm lying."

"I… I've already knocked one person down today. I can do it again." Just then, she thought she could do anything. Anything at all. It didn't matter if there was fury in his eyes, if his fingers were digging into her arms. If he looked fit to kill. She could handle this. She could handle him. She could handle anything.

"If you meant it," she said, her voice admirably cool. "I'd like you to say it again. I've never heard it before."

"I love you." Calming, he touched his lips to her brow. "I want you." To each temple. "I need you to stay with me." Then her mouth. "Give me more time to show you what we'll be like together."

"I know what we'll be like together. I want what we'll be like together." She let out a shuddering breath, resisted the urge to close her eyes. She needed to see his face, to remember it exactly as it was at this moment, with the sun sinking, the sky going peach and rose, and a flock of birds winging overhead. "I love you. I was afraid to tell you. I don't know why. I don't think I'm afraid of anything now. Are you going to ask me to marry you?"

"I was about to muddle my way through that part." On impulse, he pulled out the simple white band holding back her hair and tossed it over her shoulders where the dogs gave loud and delighted chase. "I want your hair in my hands," he murmured, threading his fingers through the thick, rich brown. "All my life I said I would never do this because there would never be a woman who would make me need to or want to. I was wrong. I found one. I found mine. Marry me, Sybill."

"All my life I said I would never do this because there would never be a man who'd need me or want me, or matter enough to make me want. I was wrong. I found you. Marry me, Phillip, and soon."

"How does next Saturday strike you?"

"Oh." Emotion flooded her heart, poured into it, out of it, warm and smooth and real. "Yes!" She leaped, throwing her arms around him.

He spun her in a circle, and for a moment, just for a flash, he thought he saw two figures standing on the dock. The man with silver hair and brilliantly blue eyes, the woman with freckles dancing over her face and wild red hair blowing in the evening breeze. Their hands were linked. They were there, then they were gone.

"This one counts," he murmured, holding her hard and close. "This one counts for both of us."


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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