“Are you . . . not working?” I asked, wincing at the scratchiness of my voice and the lameness of my question.
“Jax gave me the weekend off, and Kira is with my grandfather.” His hand curled around the nape of my neck. “I’m not going anywhere, Stephanie.”
“I don’t want you to leave me.” I whispered those words, and it didn’t kill me to admit something so vulnerable. In all honesty, it did the exact opposite. Relief blossomed, tiny and frail, but there.
Nick’s hand stilled. “Why would you even think that?”
I raised a shoulder.
“Don’t do that.” His voice was gentle as his hand started to move again, kneading the tight muscles in my neck. “Talk to me.”
My hand slipped to his chest and curled there, above his heart. “I just don’t want you to leave, because I . . . I think you’re going to. We got together because I was pregnant. That’s why we were together. Not because of anything else, and now that’s gone, there’s no reason for you to keep doing this—”
“No reason?” Disbelief colored his tone.
“Well, I know you’re physically attracted to me, but . . . I don’t know.” I sighed. “None of this is really important right now. We can—”
“That is important right now.” His other hand rose, brushing back a strand of hair that had escaped the ponytail and was plastered to my cheek. “Why in the world would you think you being pregnant was the only reason I’ve been with you?”
When he said it like that, it did sound foolish, but our relationship had been far from normal. “You didn’t want to see me again after the first night we hooked up.”
“I know you apologized, and honestly, I don’t even care about that, but when you did come back around, you just wanted to be friends. There was nothing more until after I found out I was pregnant,” I said, and then rushed on. “We never called each other boyfriend and girlfriend, and you said we were stuck together. That we were going to have to make the best out of this and . . .” And I trailed off, because really, what else needed to be said after that? Those were his words.
Nick was silent for a moment and then cursed under his breath. “Jesus, Stephanie, I fucked this up. I really did.”
Confused, I drew back and my gaze found his. “What?”
“Shit.” He lifted a hand, dragging it down his face. “Remember that night I came here to apologize for the way I acted in the bar? When I said I wished things were different between us? I wasn’t screwing around then. You have no idea how hard it was for me not to see you again after the night we hooked up. I wanted to. Fuck. I wanted to more than anything I’ve wanted to do in a long time.”
What the what . . . ? “Then why didn’t you?”
He shook his head. “My focus has been my grandfather for the last couple of years, and I didn’t want any other complications. I didn’t have time for one.” He dropped his hand. “But I’m also a fucking idiot. It’s not something I realized until I got to know you. That’s not a good enough excuse, but with everything that has happened in my family—losing almost all of them, and then the girl I thought I was in love with in college left me when shit got tough? Getting in a relationship again wasn’t something I was looking forward to. I’m going to be honest. The idea still . . . yeah, it scares me a little.”
I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know what to say as I shook my head.
“I wanted to be different for you—I wanted everything to be different for you, and that was before we knew you were pregnant,” he said, his shoulders hunching as he shook his head. “I just didn’t think I was capable of being that person.”
My brows rose. “You are.”
His lashes lowered. “You know, a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have been sure of that statement, and honestly, I didn’t know until you came over for Thanksgiving. Seeing you with my grandfather made me realize how much of an idiot I was, not going after you the moment I left your apartment. And talking to you about what happened to my family, how it’s tied to Calla. Actually saying that shit out loud helped me let it go. I should’ve . . . I should’ve said that to you, because I get why you’d think there was nothing else between us. I do. I should’ve made it clear that there was more I was feeling.”
He pressed his hand to his chest. “I was feeling more for you in here, and it had nothing to do with you being pregnant.”
I almost couldn’t believe what he was saying. “But if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, would we ever have gotten together?”
“I don’t know, honestly I don’t, but I like to think we would’ve found our way to each other.” His gaze flickered to mine. “I want to believe that. I have to.”
I struggled through the ball of emotion that was building again. Hope was there, swelling so beautifully, but it felt tainted with loss and with lingering, thick confusion. My lips trembled and I pressed them together for a moment. “I don’t know. You were wonderful—you have been wonderful. I should’ve known there was more there. I’ve just been so . . . everything has been new to me.”
“Yeah.” His eyes searched mine. “Neither of us are very good at this relationship thing, huh?”
A dry, cracking laugh escaped me. “No. We’re not very good at it.” I lowered my chin. “But we were really good at it when we didn’t even know we were doing it.”
“Damn straight,” he murmured, gently touching my chin. He tipped my head up so our eyes met. “Would you like to be my girlfriend? Circle yes or no.”
Another hoarse laugh rattled as I lifted my finger, drawing a circle on his chest. “That’s me circling yes.”
Nick’s lips twitched into a grin. “Maybe I should’ve asked you that a while ago.”
“Maybe I should’ve asked you.”
His grin faded as he leaned over, pressing his lips to my temple.
“You know what?” I whispered, closing my eyes as I tried to grasp onto that hope and almost immediately felt guilty for doing so. How could I be happy about anything right now? But at the same time how could I not be, now that I knew the man I was in love with wanted to be with me? Even if he hadn’t spoken those three words, what he had told me meant so much.
He curled his arm back around my waist. “What?”
“I wish . . . I wish this hadn’t happened.”
“I know. I wish the same thing.”
I drew in a shallow breath. “It hurts. I can’t believe how much it hurts, and I can’t stop thinking that I . . . I could’ve done something differently.”
“Babe,” he said, kissing my forehead, “don’t let your head go there. Promise me you won’t let your head go there.”
Promising that was harder said than done, but that’s what I did, and he cupped my cheek. “It’s going to be hard. I know it is. For both of us, but you know what?”
“We got each other. No matter what. There is a you and me.” Nick lowered his forehead to mine. “And that is all we need right now.”