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Just To Be With You (Page 69)

And as his father’s words played again in his head, Ian realized he’d been about to blow it again. He’d been sitting out here waiting for the perfect time to literally sweep Tatiana off her feet in the romantic gesture he’d been so certain she wanted.

When all along, all she wanted was him.

One question at a time, one kiss at a time, Tatiana had taught him about love. The kind of real, powerful, forever love that his parents had…and that he’d been so sure would never be for him. Everything about the way he and Tatiana had come together had been unexpected and impromptu and messy.

And meant to be.

At long last, with a hell of a lot of help from his father, Ian realized that tonight shouldn’t be any different.

Nearly twenty years ago, he had done everything he could to save his dad and his family. Now, Max had just returned the favor a billion times over by saving Ian from himself.

* * *

Mia began handing out the champagne glasses to everyone, and Tatiana nearly dropped to her knees in gratitude that they were almost at the toasts, because she wouldn’t be able to fake her smile for much longer.

It had been hard enough coming here tonight knowing that Ian would be close enough to touch and yet completely out of reach. She’d tried to brace herself for the moment she saw him, tried to remind herself that she’d need to stay strong enough not to throw herself back into his arms, even if the two days she’d spent apart from him had felt more like two horribly long, miserably dark years.

Of course, when he’d finally walked into the house, her heart had leapt so hard and so high that she was half surprised it wasn’t dancing around on the floor from the sheer thrill of seeing Ian face to face again. But after one quick look at her, he’d immediately turned and left.

For a moment, she’d thought she would shatter right there, in the middle of Ford and Mia’s living room with Ian’s family surrounding her. Her hands and feet had gone numb, and she’d forgotten how to breathe.

Somehow, though, she’d gotten through it, partly with the help of Valentina’s warm hand over her ice-cold one…but mostly by drawing from the love she felt for Ian to regain her cool. She didn’t want him to think he’d destroyed her, didn’t want to add more guilt to the load he already carried.

For the past half hour, Tatiana was hopeful that she’d pulled off another Oscar-worthy performance with his family and friends, acting as if she were whole when she was certain she’d never feel whole again.

Once everyone had a champagne glass in hand, Mia tapped a spoon on the side of hers. “It’s time to toast our guests of honor.” The room quieted down as everyone turned with smiles for Tatiana and Smith. “And since it’s our house,” Mia said with a grin as Ford wrapped an arm around her waist from behind, “Ford and I have decided we get to go first. Smith, you wrote, directed, and starred in an amazing film that blew both of us away. I’ve always been proud to share the Sullivan name with you, and I always will be. And Tatiana, we want you to know how blown away we are by you, and how much we love you, too.”

“Especially me.”

Two dozen heads swiveled toward the deep male voice that had just sounded from the doorway.

Ian.

He only had eyes for her as he headed across the room, and the silence was so complete they truly could have heard a pin drop.

“The first time I saw you in the middle of the vines in Napa Valley, I knew you were special, but I couldn’t let myself believe it. I wasn’t prepared to let someone as unexpectedly bright and beautiful as you into the life I’d arranged so carefully. Or behind the walls that I’d worked for so long to build so high.” Their families parted for him as he spoke in his strong, mesmerizing voice, until he was standing right in front of her. “But from the moment I met you, all of my carefully ordered plans, all the boundaries I’d built, started to come crashing down one after another until they were an even bigger mess than your living room.”

She could barely take it all in, that right when she thought she’d never recover from her heart ripping in two, Ian was suddenly standing before her, staring down at her with pure love in his eyes. And yet, even as stunned as she was by the unexpected and beautiful words he was saying, how could she not smile at his equally unexpected joke?

He moved closer, then, reaching out to stroke the small dimple in her right cheek. “I never thought I’d find something, someone, I’d love more than my company, or would be able to count on the way I can count on it. But now I know just how wrong I was. You’ve proved to me again and again that I’ll forever be able to count on you. And even if I tried my whole life to stop loving you, I would never be able to do it. Because you are the love of my life, Tatiana. Can you ever forgive me for not recognizing true love when you were right there in front of me?”

Just then, someone coughed and Tatiana remembered, with no little shock, that they weren’t alone. The minute he’d walked back in the front door and started speaking, the world had shrunk down to just the two of them. But Ian hadn’t just told her that he loved her—he’d declared himself in front of everyone.

Of all the words he could have spoken to her tonight, it was how he said them that said the most about his true feelings for her. He wasn’t just opening himself up to let her into his heart tonight, he was breaking down the walls he’d put up around himself to let all of them back in.

“How could I not forgive a son who would do anything for his mother and father?” She reached for him and could have sworn sparks jumped when their hands touched. “How could I not fall for a brother who would protect his siblings with his dying breath?” He tugged her closer at the same time that she moved toward him. “And how could I not love a brilliant CEO who is excited by the work he does every single day…and who happens to wear a suit better than anyone else ever will?”

His mouth came down over hers, then, so warm and so full of love that the tears she’d barely been holding back all night long finally spilled down her cheeks from the sheer joy of being back where she was meant to be.

In Ian’s arms.

Too soon, he was drawing back, but before she could protest, he said, “When I told you life isn’t a fairy tale, it was because I’d never met anyone like you, and I honestly didn’t think you could exist. You’re everything I’ve ever wanted, needed, dreamed of.”

“So are you. I love you so much, Ian.”

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