For some reason, his laugh made her want to cry. Why was he making a joke? She shoved away from him, but he caught both of her wrists in his hands.
“Don’t,” he said. “Don’t run off like you’re ashamed of what happened.”
“I am ashamed.”
He shook his head. “I lost control, not you. I made the choice.”
“But you were waiting, and I…”
He gave her a lopsided smile, the dimple in his left cheek making her heart flip. He let go of one wrist and brushed back the hair at her brow. “I’m still waiting. Tonight proves one thing, though.”
She licked her lips. “What’s that?”
“We’re getting married as soon as the ink dries on the marriage license.”
Summer could only nod her agreement.
“Now, about that towel?”
“Yes, of course,” she said, but she still hadn’t moved.
He let go of her other wrists and cupped the back of her neck, pulling her to him. “Kiss before you go?”
She kissed him tenderly, wishing she could see herself as he did, or how he pretended to see her. She opened her eyes, staring at her reflection in the window. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t pretend at all.
Saturday evening, Gabriel took Summer to his parents’ house for the first time, and he was nervous, so nervous it was like he was the one meeting the parents and not her.
He wanted his parents to like her, and he wanted Summer to like them. Growing up, Summer never really got to meet his parents like this. She’d always turned down his invitations to dinners, while he was never invited to Strawberry Grove.
Besides, he wasn’t on the best of terms with her mother, after the hospital incident, though she’d left a long time ago and had never come back.
So, it was as if they were each other’s dirty little secret, without all the secrecy or the implied sex. Lately sex had been occupying his mind more and more often, not that it didn’t inhabit his brain at all times, because it did. Just… his brain knew what would happen soon, so his body was getting all on board and making it hard for him to sleep at night.
He really wished that pun didn’t exist. If Summer knew what he was thinking, she’d either laugh in his face or—he frowned—he wasn’t sure what else she would do. Unless she planned a repeat of Thursday night. Now that, he could go along with.
The perfume she’d worn on each of their dates stole over him as he parked his truck in the driveway. “Is that a new perfume?”
Big, brown eyes met his. “No. I stopped wearing perfume not long after I had Ivy. The scent of it made me… sad.”
“Post-partum depression?” he ventured.
Her gaze fixed on a spot over his shoulder. “Darius liked for me to wear perfume. He liked to buy the samplers from Victoria’s Secret so we could pick out the ones we liked the most without spending a fortune.”
He covered her small hand with his. “You didn’t talk much about him when you were pregnant.”
She shrugged. “What was I supposed to say?”
“Whatever you wanted. It wouldn’t have bothered me, unless he didn’t treat you right.” Gabriel couldn’t be jealous of a dead man, of a soldier who’d fought so Gabriel could sit in an American-made truck, in the middle of his parents’ driveway, on a Saturday night, with the woman who made his heart pound against his chest.
“He treated me right.” She bent her head. “He was kind to me, and I think he loved me, unless I was imagining things.”
“That’s not hard to imagine at all.”
She made a noise of disbelief. “Don’t make me call you a liar, angel. I am not easy to love.”
Gabriel hooked a finger under her chin and applied gentle pressure, until their gazes locked. “Who said love was easy? If it were, then we wouldn’t have entire passages in the Bible about it. We wouldn’t be instructed to love our neighbors, or our enemies. A man is commanded to love his wife multiple times.” He made himself stop talking, because he knew how she still viewed him, how she thought he was this holier-than-thou type, and he didn’t want to ruin this date. He wanted them united when they went inside to meet his family.
“But I’m not patient, or kind, or selfless,” she said softly.
“The girl I knew was, and the woman who gave up her daughter, because she knew she couldn’t take care of her, is incredibly selfless,” he said sincerely. “The woman, who, right now, is putting up with Jemma Leigh dressing her up like some life-sized Barbie doll, because she doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, is very kind.”
“I like how Jemma Leigh’s dressing me.”
He grinned. “I really appreciate how she’s dressing you.”
“Why, because I look decent for once?” she snapped, and then winced a little. “Sorry.”
In answer, he kissed her. “Nonsense. Utter. Nonsense.”
“Gabriel,” she whispered, right before she sucked his bottom lip into her mouth and bit down.
Behind his eyelids, sparks of light exploded. Desire wound through him, stoking embers of lust that grew hotter. For so long, he’d been waiting for her, waiting to be able to kiss her just because, touch her because she was near and welcomed it.
A sharp rap on the window startled them both, and he turned to see his sister, Isabella, standing there. Her caramel-colored hair was pulled into a haphazard bun, and she wore a Hurricane’s Jersey with a stain on the shoulder.
She looked less than put together—way less, but he wasn’t about to comment on that, not with the red-rimmed eyes she sported.
Hoping his sister’s ex-fiancé lost his millions while on an extended stay in Vegas might not be very Christ-like, but he was human and he loved his sister, which only made his point about love not being easy. That guy had hurt Isabella, therefore making him the enemy, and Gabriel did not love him for it.
“Mom and Dad are waiting, love birds.” Wrapping her arms around her middle, she walked back to the house.
“She’s all grown up now,” Summer remarked, and he gave her a look.
“Bella’s only three years younger than you.”
“Your sister is a lifetime younger than me.”
Rather than agree or argue, because his family was in fact waiting for them, he got out, and strode around the truck to open her door.
Sometimes she waited for him to do it, while other times, she rolled her eyes and opened it herself. Tonight, she waited for him. For some reason he felt like taking her in his arms, but he didn’t want to wrinkle her outfit or mess up her hairdo, since she and Jemma Leigh had spent so much time on them.