“You’re not stupid.” I sniffed.

“I am stupid. Walking away from you guys for all that time was stupid. But I want to make it better. I want to make it right. I want to make you feel secure again and show you that I’m not looking for the door ever again. So”—he laid the other papers on the counter—“I listed my house this morning. That house was my bachelor pad, my old life. Everything I want is here, in this house . . . all of my physical belongings and my people. I don’t ever have to go back to that house again.”

My eyebrows shot up. “You’re selling your house?” I exclaimed.

He nodded.

“Viper, I haven’t even let you back in yet.”

His shoulders shrugged. “I know, but I don’t want to go back there. I want to be here. Plus, that house reminds me of the worst time in my whole life, a time away from you and the kids, and I don’t want to go back there. Ever.”

Several weeks’ worth of feelings and emotions welled up inside of me and came bubbling quickly to the surface. I rubbed my forehead with my fingers as tears started falling from my eyes as fast as my eyes could make them. I believed him. I believed every word he said. I believed that he missed us. I believed that he wanted to be here. I dropped my hands and looked at him. He was staring back at me with tears in his eyes, too.

He tilted his head to the side. “Please, baby? Please let me come home. Please let me be a dad to the kids again. Please let me love you again. I can’t be without you guys for one more day.”

My breath hitched as I put my head in my hands and started to sob. Shoulder-shaking, stomach-clenching, couldn’t-breathe sobs. Viper rushed around the island and wrapped me in his arms. As soon as I felt them cover me, I cried even harder. He didn’t say any more, he just held me and let me cry until there was nothing else to let out. After several minutes, I pushed his stomach back gently and reached for a napkin to blow my nose. After I tossed the napkin in the garbage, before I could say anything, he pulled me against him for another hug.

There was a point, a month before, where I wasn’t sure if I’d ever feel his arms around me again, and now that they were, they felt so good that I didn’t ever want to move. I closed my eyes and leaned into him, inhaling the smell of him and feeling his chest muscles flex against the side of my head every time his arms moved up and down as he rubbed my back.

“There is one more thing that I need to tell you,” he said.

My eyes shot open and I froze. “What?”

His arms tightened around me. “The nurse at Gam’s . . . Kat—”

“Oh God! Viper.” I pulled back quickly and glared at him. “You did not!”

His mouth fell open and he raised his hands defensively. “No! No! Nothing happened. God no!”

My chest rose and fell heavily as I waited for him to explain himself.

“Years ago—several years ago—we dated. I had no idea she was going to be at Gam’s. I didn’t even know she was a nurse now. I asked Ellie to make all the arrangements, and before I got a chance to look over who she picked, I got hurt and it kind of took my attention off of that.”

I eyed him skeptically as my blood pressure slowly came back down. “So are there feelings there?”

He shook his head vigorously. “Absolutely not. Not even a little. Nothing.”

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Same reason you didn’t tell me about the baby right away. There wasn’t really a good time. After I got hurt and we went to Gam’s—the day I got the call that I’d torn my ACL—that was the first time I saw her. I was going to fire her, but then she’d bonded with Gam and everything happened between you and me, and I just didn’t care about her anymore. I still don’t.”

I let out a heavy sigh as he took a step toward me and bent his head down to catch my eyes with his. “I want a fresh start with us, Michelle. Clean slate, starting today, so I don’t want anything that could be viewed as a secret hanging out there between us.”

“You’re sure there’s nothing there?”

“Michelle, I promise. There’s less than nothing.”

“Well, I have something to tell you, too.” I looked up at him and his head jerked back in surprise. “I spent Thanksgiving with Joel and Gavin.”

“Oh.” He waved his hand. “I already knew that.”

“You did?” My voice rose.

“Yeah, Kacie told me that, too.”

Blabbermouth.

“Are you mad?” I asked cautiously, not wanting to ruin all the progress we’d just made.

“Yes.” He nodded. “Mad at myself for not being here to spend the holiday with you guys, but not mad at you for having dinner with a friend. As much as it pains me to think about it, I’m glad he was here for you.”

“Wow!” I said in amazement. “I didn’t expect that to come out of you.”

“I didn’t expect it to come out of me either, but I mean it. I’m done playing games and having temper tantrums. That’s not who I am anymore. I want this. I want us.” He moved his hand back and forth between the two of us, then motioned down the hall toward the playroom. “I want them. I want our kids . . . Matthew, Maura, this little guy who has yet to be named . . . maybe even a couple more after him.”

My eyes flashed open and I let out a quick giggle through the tears. “Whoa! Slow down. You were living in your car up until an hour ago. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with more babies, okay?”

He grabbed my shoulders and pulled me against him, squeezing me as hard as he ever had. “I love you, Michelle. And I’m so, so incredibly sorry. I can’t say that enough.”

“Yes, you can.” I hooked my arms under his and hugged him back. “That was your one and only get-out-of-jail-free card.”

“I won’t need another. I promise.”

We stood in the kitchen, hugging and swaying back and forth, until the kids came in and interrupted us several minutes later.

“I’m hungry!” Matthew whined. “I want lunch.”

“I have some soup in the car,” Viper joked.

I pulled back and looked up at him. “What? Soup?”

He let out a quick laugh. “Kacie made Brody bring me soup. It’s in my car.”

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