“I don’t need to know that you had a crush on your teacher in the third grade. What I need is to trust you.”
“I know, baby. I know. I promise you that you can.” I’d never seen his expression so somber, his eyes so sad. “These last few weeks have been the worst of my life, Emmy. I can’t lose you. You’re mine. And I’m yours.”
My heart clenched in my chest and I drew a deep breath. His sincerity, his masculine scent, the pain reflected in his eyes was too much. I turned away from him, gazing out the window to the city blanketed by snow. Things looked so simple on the outside; traffic continued zooming past, lights burned brightly in the distance, people huddled into their coats for warmth on the sidewalk below. Life went on. There was beauty, heartache, and love so bottomless you felt it deep in your core. That was the love Ben and I had found. We’d hit some bumpy patches, sure, but my mom’s advice resonated in my head. Perhaps it was all part of life. There were ups and downs, love and loss. And I knew in my heart, I wasn’t ready to give him up. Not over a stupid video he’d made years ago before he even knew me. I’d just need to grow thicker skin if I wanted to be with him.
I turned to face him in the silent room. “There aren’t going to be any more women, any more stories coming out of the woodwork, are there?”
“No ma’am.” His voice was firm.
I paced the room, planting my hands on my hips. “Thank God you only slept with three girls before me—you seem to make stupid decisions where sex is involved. And don’t think I won’t track down the third girl and grill her if necessary. Because I will.” I jabbed a finger in his direction.
“No, that’s not needed.”
I shot him a warning glare that said I wasn’t above doing just that. I knew Bray would help me if I needed it.
“Listen, Emmy, I’m trying to tell you, this last month has been the hardest of my life. I can’t survive without you. You’re my world, baby. Please say you can forgive me.”
His hand found mine and he laced our fingers together, joining us from wrist to elbow. The warmth of his skin, the weight of his hand in mine, the burn in his gaze all served to remind me I really was his. And I couldn’t live without him, either. Looking into his hazel gaze felt like coming home. No way was I willing to give that up.
I lifted on my toes and pressed a kiss to his surprised mouth. “I forgive you,” I murmured.
His mouth slanted against mine and his tongue sought entrance, lightly stroking my own. God, I’d missed him. I missed everything about him. His sweet kisses, his filthy murmurings in my ear, the feel of his firm body pressed to mine. I was stupid to think a video recorded years ago was enough to come between us. He held my jaw in his hands and kissed me like his life depended on it. I realized something in that moment. I wouldn’t let anything come between us ever again. We’d weather whatever storms life delivered together.
His hands wandered from my face to my neck, sliding down over my shoulders, my lower back, and down to my bottom, which he cupped in his palms to haul me closer. “Don’t ever leave me again, baby. Ever. Promise me.”
“I promise,” I whispered in between kisses.
Being back in Ben’s arms gave me solace. Not the kind of fairytale love that the movies portrayed. What we had was real. We were real. We made mistakes, held grudges, and then moved on. It actually gave me piece of mind to know that.
“Come on, your family’s probably wondering where we are,” he said, releasing his tight hold on me ever so slightly.
Remembering that my mom, dad, and brother were here in New York warmed my heart. “Thank you for bringing them to me. That was incredibly thoughtful and sweet of you.”
Taking my hand in his once again, he led me back to the living room. My mom and Ellie rushed to my side, questioning smiles ghosting their lips.
“Everything okay?” my mom asked.
Keeping one hand possessively curled around my hip, Ben looked to me to answer.
“Everything’s great, Mom.” I gave Ellie a reassuring look, too, letting her know there were no hard feelings for dragging me over here.
My dad and brother remained planted across the room, watching us as they quietly sipped their drinks. Watching me with Ben, my dad’s mouth curled into a lazy smile, and while Porter still looked guarded, he nodded something in silent agreement to Ben.
Now that I was more relaxed I took in the room more thoroughly. The ten-foot evergreen tree smelled intoxicating and made the room cozy and inviting. I didn’t know how he’d managed to get a Christmas tree delivered to a hotel room, but I knew there was nothing he wouldn’t do for me. The thought filled my heart with love.
My mom, ever the hostess, ensured everyone had a cocktail in their hands and encouraged us to eat. The hors d’oeuvres did look delicious and smelled even better.
“Are you hungry?” Ben asked.
“A little,” I admitted.
He released his hold on me just long enough to prepare me a small plate of bruschetta, spicy shrimp on skewers, and mushrooms stuffed with feta cheese.
I accepted the plate and nibbled on a bite of shrimp. The emotional journey over the past hour had left me surprisingly hungry.
Ben helped himself to a shrimp from the platter then returned to my side, his large hand once again finding my hip to curl around me possessive and sure.
After we’d eaten all the appetizers and devoured the mini chocolate cheesecakes for dessert, my mom shuffled us to sit down around the tree.
My parents, Ellie, and Porter sunk into the inviting sofa and armchairs while I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the tree. It was the spot I always took at home on Christmas morning to pass out the presents. Ben settled next to me on an ottoman.
“Too bad I didn’t know you guys were coming. I don’t have any gifts for you,” I commented.
“That’s okay, honey. Christmas isn’t about the gifts. I’m just so glad we’re together.”
“Me too.” My eyes found Ben’s.
“Besides, Ben gave us the best gift of all: being here together.” My mom smiled warmly at him. Oh yeah, my mom was sold. Hook, line, and sinker. He tended to have that effect on women.
He was still watching me intently, making me feel so incredibly cherished and special. “I think there is one present in the tree.” He pointed to a branch near the center of the tree and I saw that he was right. Nestled among the pine needles was a tiny turquoise-colored box.