“Don’t you feel like we’re standing at the edge of the world?”
Blake bent to catch a shell rolling up with the tide. “I suppose so.” He tossed it back into the restless waters. “You love the ocean, don’t you?”
“I do. I’m not sure I can ever be without it again.” I laughed quietly. “I guess I like living on the edge.”
I met Blake’s gaze. His eyes were quiet, contemplative. The fading glow of the sunset cast shadows across his face. The vintage T-shirt he wore ruffled in the breeze blowing off the ocean. Though still damp at the bottom, his jeans were rolled up past his ankles. Blake was perfect in all the ways that mattered to me. Perfect and all mine.
He took my hand and pulled me to him. I went willingly, loving the warmth of his embrace. He circled my waist, bringing us chest to chest. My hands found his hair, mussing the dark brown strands. I smiled, memorizing him and this moment.
“Sometimes I wish I could just sweep you up and take you away. Run away from all this madness and take a real break. A long break.”
I drew in a breath. I couldn’t agree more, but I also knew how unrealistic it was. I’d spent a long time wishing I could run away from my life, but not having any idea where or whom to run to. Instead I’d resisted the urge and forged ahead, making life work through the hardest times. Through my mother’s death, through the separation from the only father I’d ever known until recently, and then through the hell that Mark had put me through. And here I was—stronger, happier than I’d ever been, enjoying this perfect moment with the man I loved so completely.
“I want to escape with you too. But this is our home, and our lives will always be here waiting for us. Besides, taking more time off would send me into a meltdown. I have a ton of catching up to do from being out so long.” I immediately thought of the mountain of work I’d barely put a dent in today. Risa’s lunch had thrown me off when my focus should have been on the details surrounding the impending upgrades.
Then I remembered something.
“So what is going on with James? I nearly had a heart attack when I saw him at the office this morning. What happened?”
“Alli wanted him in the office to help while you were out.”
“I can’t imagine that’s the only reason why you let him stay.”
“No, we talked.”
“He came to you?” I pulled back slightly, in disbelief that James would actually seek Blake out, or vice-versa.
“I think we can both agree that he’s fairly protective of you, so when Alli hinted that you’d been hurt, it didn’t take long for him to show up at my office wanting to know more.”
“I think initially he wanted to know that I didn’t have anything to do with you being hurt. He seems caught up on this idea that I abuse you.”
He winced, and I didn’t like the emotions that played out there.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with you. His dad was violent. I think it’s a sensitive subject for him.”
“Maybe that’s it. Anyway, after learning that Max attacked you and knowing that Daniel hurt you too, he posed a compelling argument that he stay, for your sake.”
“And you agreed?”
“Basically, as much as I would like to, I can’t be with you twenty four hours a day. With everything that has happened lately, it makes sense that James be there to make sure that you can be safe at work.”
I put more of a separation between us, staring at him in disbelief.
“Let me make sure I have this right. Are you telling me that you’re willing to let James stay with the company with the understanding that he act as my in-house bodyguard?”
“Erica.” An undercurrent of warning came through as he uttered my name. “If you think I’m taking any chances with your safety, you’re crazy.”
I tried to step away but he didn’t budge. “I can’t stand the idea of having all of you hovering around me, waiting for something terrible happen. I want to be trusted to take care of myself, at least a little bit.”
“I know, but taking care of you is my job now. Remember?”
True enough. I’d given up the right to fight him on this matter.
“Beyond that, I knew agreeing to remove James from your life wasn’t an easy decision for you to make.”
“You didn’t give me much choice.”
“You still had a choice. I’m glad you made it and were willing to make that sacrifice for us. I’m not saying I completely trust that he doesn’t still harbor feelings for you—”
“He’s seeing Simone. I’m pretty confident he’s moved on.”
“He made a point to tell me as much. I haven’t had much success with getting over you personally, so you’ll excuse me for taking his reassurance with a grain of salt. As I was saying, he might still care about you, but as long as he can keep his hands to himself, those feelings can serve to keep you safe and out of danger while you’re away from me. Keeping him there seemed like a worthwhile concession.”
“Blake Landon making a concession?” I rolled my eyes.
He hauled me back up, slapping my ass through the thin cotton of my dress. I yelped and squirmed.
“Roll those pretty blue eyes at me again, and you’ll regret it.” He massaged me where he’d made contact, grabbing me gently. “Maybe you could thank me instead.”
“Thanks.” I meant to sound sarcastic. Instead I was breathless as he pressed me against him, his hands splayed possessively at my back and over my ass.
“That’s more like it.”
I suppressed a smile. “You’re hopeless, you know that?”
“Yes. Hopelessly in love with you. Get used to it. Marriage is forever.”
His eyes glittered in a way that made me forget I was annoyed with him.
“On that note, actually. I was hoping we could talk about wedding plans tonight.”
I weakened a little. “Yeah?”
He took my hand and we began to walk back toward his parents’ house.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that you can’t quite compete with Alli’s enthusiasm over all this wedding stuff.”
“You picked up on that, did you?”
He laughed. “I’m very observant. But I was thinking maybe we can scrap all this elaborate planning, and just do something small. We can still have my family, your family, but skip trying to put on some big display. I want to be married to you, Erica. I don’t want to wait. Put me in a pink cummerbund, and let’s just do it.”