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“You said that before,” his dad pointed out.

Paul stopped swinging and shuffled back inside.

He glanced up at his dad and said, “This time I’m different, and I’m doing things differently, too.” This time, he would make a difference in Summer’s life.

John smiled and nodded. “Different is good.”

Chapter Ten

Summer hadn’t expected Gabriel to take so long to tell her no.

But here he was, two weeks later, walking into Carolina Dreams with a determined look on his face. Jemma Leigh had said that she’d heard Elise had broken up with him, but Summer seriously doubted that.

The bells on the door rang, and then went silent.

She backed up, against the counter, desperately wishing she had something in her hands other than Blackbeard, the fickle cat. He meowed at Gabriel before jumping out of her arms and heading to the back.

“Traitor,” she muttered.

Gabriel’s scent washed over her before he reached her, but this time it didn’t give her comfort. She knew she’d pushed him too far. She also knew she had no chance at getting Ivy back, that her hopes and dreams for a real family were about to be dashed to pieces.

“Are you really determined to go through with it?” Gabriel asked, stopping just shy of touching her. Today, he wore another button-down shirt and khaki pants. His dark hair was thick and slightly wavy… slightly tempting her to touch him.

She fisted her hands by her side. “Yes.”

“Then I’ll marry you.”

Her jaw and her body nearly dropped to the floor in shock. Then she remembered her threat. “So nice of you to be concerned about all those couples—”

“Stop it.” He shook his head. “I’ve known you for too long not to know when you’re bluffing. And that, sweetheart, was one of your biggest bluffs.”

“I-I…uh…well, I’m glad you’ve agreed to marry me. Hopefully, Elise won’t be too broken up about it.” She wanted to bang her head against the counter after she said that. Way to rub a little salt into the wound.

His eyes narrowed. “Elise won’t be broken up about it at all.”

“That’s good,” she whispered, growing more uneasy by the minute.

“But I have some conditions of my own, since I’m being so agreeable and giving up Elise.”

“That seems fair.”

“You’re darn right it does.”

Summer waited. This time, her fingers uncurled and fisted the material of her dress instead. Gabriel’s gaze dropped, and she could have sworn his expression softened.

“There won’t be a marriage in name only, and there won’t be a divorce. It’s either all or nothing.” He started ticking off a list, marking each item with a finger. “I want to date you, then get engaged, then having a wedding, a honeymoon—you did call dibs on that, after all—and then we’ll come right back to Holland Springs. You’ll move in with me, work here, or wherever else you’d like, or stay at home. Doesn’t matter—I can provide for you either way.”

“But…”

He gave her a look. “But what?”

“There’s always a ‘but’. You have to want…something else from me,” she said, her heart sinking and her legs shaking.

“Oh I do, but that has to be given—willingly.” He gently grabbed her arm, pulling her toward him. Cupping the side of her face with his free hand, he dipped his head. “I plan to be the man you’ve always wanted, your every fantasy, and every desire. I plan on meeting every need a wild child like you could have. And by God, I hope it’s a lot, because I’ve been waiting my whole life for you.”

Before Summer could melt into a puddle on the floor, his mouth came over hers. Hard. Demanding. She kissed him back just as hard, just as demanding. Years of pent-up need, and want, and desire for him twined, growing stronger with each passing second.

Her butt hit the counter, and his hard chest bumped into hers. She gasped, and his tongue plunged inside her mouth.

Good God, he could kiss, was her last thought, and then all she could do was feel, and touch, and taste. Take and give. Whimper, and moan, and dig her nails into his skin.

All too soon, he pulled away, his breath coming in pants.

“Do you plan on kissing me like that very often?” she asked.

He grinned, slow, cocky, and just this side of wicked. Her eyes couldn’t help but widen. Her pulse couldn’t help mimic the speed of hummingbird wings. Her angel had never looked at her like that. Ever.

“I plan on kissing you like that, every day, for the rest of my life,” he said.

Normally, this would be the time she’d say something sarcastic, but normally, he didn’t kiss her. Normally, she didn’t feel so alive.

“Oh,” was all she could manage. Her voice was breathless. When had she ever been breathless around a man? Oh yeah, not even two minutes ago when he was kissing the daylights out of her. She placed her hand on his chest to steady herself, but all it did was throw her off balance once more.

“Summer,” Gabriel murmured, and she had to look up at him. “I’d like to take you out tonight.”

Gabriel had heard the line about drowning in someone’s eyes before. He had even thought it was pure junk science, but as Summer gazed up at him, all wide-eyed with desire and confusion, he could picture himself falling into those chocolate depths.

Under his hand, her fingers curled. “What time should I be ready?”

“How about six?” How did his voice remain so calm when, inside he was utterly devastated by her—in a completely excellent way. He had kissed her and she’d kissed him back. She hadn’t pushed him away or critiqued his technique. In fact, she looked as turned on as he felt. His entire body vibrated, pulled tight, and ready for release. For relief.

Breathe in, breathe out.

He could stay strong. He could also rethink the timeframe he’d given himself to date Summer before “officially” asking her to marry him. Honestly, he didn’t know if he could wait a day, much less a month.

But what was thirty days compared to twenty-nine years?

She nodded, licking her bottom lip. She was the difference. Summer’s lips, her hand on his chest…her body against his…that’s what made thirty more days seem like thirty million years.

“Pick me up here.”

He’d rather pick her up at her place, but he’d go along with her wishes. “We’ll grab a bite to eat, and then catch a movie, or go to Poor Boy’s so you can dance.”

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