I tap my chest. “And this guy was completely determined to get the other guy’s name, to get his number, to get him to go home with him. To get his man. Because he had to have him.”

Dean can’t stop smiling—his grin glimmers across his eyes. “He was very determined. That was one of the things the other guy found endearing about him,” he says.

Hope wants to run away with me, but I continue the story at a steady pace, not wanting to rush it. The story of us. “And this guy kept finding ways to see the other guy. His sister even engineered one of those times, and it was worth it because it led to the best first kiss of his life.”

His grin grows wider. “What do you know? I heard the same thing. Best first kiss of the other guy’s life too.”

His words embolden me. I would fly across the ocean again and again to hear them over and over. “And they spent a week together. They went to this cheesy bar where they were supposed to hit some softballs, but they got distracted. They had tea together, and they spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, and on Tower Bridge, and on a riverboat, and in the park, and in a club. And . . . they completely fell in love.”

“They did,” Dean says, and the laughter of people nearby barely registers. I only have eyes for him.

As I look at Dean Collins, it’s not desire behind this glowing warmth inside me. It’s love. It’s hope. It is my absolute certainty in how I feel. I have never felt this way with anyone else. I don’t think I could feel like this with anyone else. How could I, when everything belongs to the man in front of me? Every ounce of emotion, trust, love, and hope—they all reside with him.

“But then this guy . . . He couldn’t stay. He had to go.”

Dean’s expression shifts, more serious now. “I think I know how this story ends. It ends with them being far apart. Is that the story you want to tell me?”

I shake my head, my eyes locked with his. “There’s this other version of the story. It has a different ending.”

In the softest voice I’ve ever heard, he whispers, sounding almost desperate, “Tell me that story, Fitz. Tell it to me now.”

I nod to where I’m standing. “Come out from behind the bar, and I will.”

Without breaking my gaze, he lifts the pass-through and steps forward, standing in front of me, a foot away. We don’t touch, though, and I know why. Once we do, we will be putting on a show. I don’t know that I could hold anything back unless I hold everything back, so my hands stay clenched in fists at my sides.

I have to say what I came to say before I can touch him.

I start over. I start a new story. The next chapter. “So, this guy walks into a bar tonight, and he has two days off before his Thursday night game, and the other guy is coming to see him next week, but this guy—he couldn’t wait till then. He couldn’t wait another minute.” I step closer, needing to be near him, to be in his space as I take the narrative for myself. “All I could think about—literally the only thing in my head this morning after I called you my boyfriend—was that I had to get to England right away. Because the thing is, Dean . . .” I can’t hold back now. I need to touch him. I reach for his face, to hold him. “I cannot stop thinking about you. I cannot stop thinking about us. I cannot stop thinking about how we can be together.”

I take a beat to let my chest fill with air again. “That’s why I got on a plane this morning—so I could come here tonight to ask you something.”

46

Dean

Mirage was my first thought when I saw Fitz at the end of my bar.

Then, it’s a trick of the mind.

Seeing the face you most want to see. The one you dream of. The one you love madly.

I never expected him to show up like this. Not when I have a plane ticket for Sunday. Not when I’m supposed to be flying to see him in five nights. When I’d planned to tell him I’d move to New York for him.

That I’d be with him if he’d have me.

That I’d give up all this for him.

Because it’s not giving up, it’s getting him. And he’s what I want most in the world.

Instead, he’s here, and he has something to ask me. I’m not one to jump to conclusions, to make assumptions.

But even so, my heart is two steps ahead, hammering wildly, assuming desperately. I try to slow the stampede of emotions as I speak, but the words come out gravelly anyway. “What exactly are you proposing?”



Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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