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“I love your brother.” I sniffled and corrected myself. “I loved your brother.”

“I know you do. I know you did.” Her eyebrows lifted as she smiled and nodded. She laid her head on my shoulder. “And he loved you.”

“None of this matters anyway.” I threw my napkin down on the table and sighed. “Nothing is going to happen with me and Viper anyway. This whole conversation is pointless.”

“Wait,”—she straightened up and looked at me—“why isn’t it gonna happen?”

“We got into a fight a couple weeks ago and I told him to leave.”

“Awww.” She stuck out her bottom lip. “And he hasn’t called since?”

“Called? No. But he’s never called. That wasn’t our thing. He texts me every morning to see how I am and if I need anything. He’s been doing that for months and months now.”

“And he’s still done this since your fight?” Her voice raised in surprise.

I nodded.

“Can I ask what you fought about?”

I felt the back of my neck tingle as my face grew hot. “My neighbor got married and he went with me to the wedding. I stayed out late with a couple girlfriends I hadn’t seen in years while he went home to relieve the sitter. Anyway, I had a couple drinks with the girls, just enough for a little liquid courage. I went home and made a move, the move I knew he was too scared to make and would never have made on his own. He thought I was drunk and turned me down.”

“But you weren’t drunk?” she asked.

“Nope.” I shook my head. “I remember every horrible second of that fight.”

“Why did he turn you down, though? What was his reasoning?”

“Mike. He felt like we were betraying him.”

“You’re right. I’m not the idiot, you are.” She shook her head. “I’ve known Viper for years too, and he doesn’t see the same girl twice in a lifetime, let alone hang out with one night after night after night with no sex. He’s clearly crazy about you, and you are obviously just as crazy about him, but you two won’t be together because you’re both scared of the exact same thing—that my brother, who has passed, would be mad at you? Am I getting all that right?”

My eyes darted around the coffee shop. Coming out of Taylor’s mouth, it did sound silly. “Pretty much.”

“You’re both morons,” she said sternly. “You guys have to get over this guilt thing that’s standing between you. Life is short, Michelle. You more than anyone should know that at this point. Don’t let any more time slip away. He’s a little wild, but from what Mike’s said, he’s a good man. You and the kids deserve a good man.”

My heart soared at her words.

“Plus, he’s willing to put up with your shitty cooking, and any man that would do that gets the seal of approval in my book.” She winked at me.

MY HANDS DIDN’T shake.

My heart didn’t race.

I pushed that doorbell with all the confidence in the world.

Within seconds, Michelle walked around the corner from the kitchen, freezing in her tracks when she saw me looking through the glass. She stood and stared for just a second before she pinched her lips together and came to the door.

“Hi!” I grinned as she opened it, walking right past her and into the kitchen.

I heard the door close, and she didn’t start yelling at me right away.

Already a good sign.

“How are you?” I asked nonchalantly as I started taking groceries out of the brown paper bag I’d brought and setting them on the island.

“Viper,” she sighed. “What is all this? What are you doing?”

“You haven’t had a cooking lesson in almost a month. I’m sure the kids are sick of pizza by now, so it’s time.” I glanced into the living room and down the hall toward Matthew’s playroom, frowning when I didn’t see anyone. “Speaking of the kids, where are they?”

“Matthew finagled Taylor into letting him sleep at her house tonight, and she thought she’d give me a break and take Maura too.”

“Even better.” I grinned at her, wiggling my eyebrows up and down.

“I’m so confused,” she mumbled, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples with her fingers.

While her eyes were shut, I stole a quick peek over at her. Her hair was damp from a recent shower, and she had on Wild sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt with no makeup. Frankly, she was one shopping cart full of crap away from passing for a homeless person, but I could not have found her more attractive than I did at that moment. It wasn’t about looks with her; it never had been. It was her heart I was in love with.

“What’s there to be confused about? We’re making chicken marsala.”

Her hands dropped to her sides in frustration. “You. Me. Us. This. I told you to leave and I meant it.”

“I did leave.” I shrugged. “And now I’m back.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Because why?” Her voice cracked, and that was all I needed to hear.

In one swift motion, I slid to my left and locked my hands on the counter on either side of her hips, closing her in with my arms. My face was inches from hers, our noses practically touching.

I stared her right in the eyes. I didn’t want her to just hear what I was about to say, I wanted her to see it too. To fucking feel it.

“Because I belong here. Because I belong with you. Because as much as you try to fight it, you know you belong with me too. Because somewhere in between hearing you sing to Maura, teaching you to make scrambled eggs, and dancing with you at that wedding, I fell in love with you.”

She took a shaky breath as a tear slowly rolled down her cheek.

I gently wiped it with my finger, holding it up in the air. “Because I want to make sure you never cry again.”

“But that night, after the wedding… you didn’t want me.” She swallowed and looked down at the ground.

“That’s not true. It’s not that I didn’t want you. Jesus, Michelle, all I’ve wanted for months is you. I didn’t want the guilt that came along with you, but fuck it. I’m ready. I’ll deal with the guilt every day for the rest of my life if it means I get to wake up and you’re still mine.”

“Really?” Her voice cracked again as tears flooded her eyes. Tears of guilt. Tears of relief. Tears of hope.

“Yes. Really. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my whole life.” I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her so tight against me I could feel her heart beating on my chest. “I have no idea what the future holds. But I do know that I’ve never wanted to try with another person before. Just try. Put all the other bullshit to the side and really, really try.”

She was quiet for a minute, and I started to worry that maybe I’d misread her tears.

“I wasn’t drunk,” she finally mumbled into my shoulder.

“Huh?”

“The night of the wedding, I wasn’t drunk.” She pulled back and stared up at me. “I had two drinks, but by the time I got home, I was barely even buzzed anymore.”

“So you kissed me because—”

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