He couldn’t seem to stop staring at her. “You gave my mother the oosik,” he commented.
Carrie lowered her gaze. “I couldn’t keep anything that valuable, Finn. It was more important that she have it than me.”
“But what you said to her,” he returned, frowning.
Carrie couldn’t remember anything specific. “What do you mean?”
“That if the two of us were to get back together, she should save it for one of her grandchildren.”
Carrie relaxed and smiled. The warm, happy feeling that had come over her that morning intensified. Had her heart known Finn was close? she wondered. She hardly knew how else to explain this sensation.
“You want it all, don’t you? Marriage, children, a career.”
“Of course. It’s what you want, too, Finn.”
He closed his eyes and nodded. “Yes,” he whispered, “more than I ever knew, although I didn’t realize it until I met you.”
Carrie braced her forehead against his. “It doesn’t matter to me where we settle—Alaska, Washington, Illinois—because my home is wherever you are.”
He hugged her even closer. “I thought I could walk away from you, but I couldn’t. I’ve never needed anyone the way I need you. I felt alone, truly alone, for the first time. Then you sent me that text, reminding me about the night we viewed the stars. You asked me to remember you. Did you honestly believe forgetting you was even possible? I fell in love with you that starry night.”
“That was the night when I realized I was falling in love with you, too,” she confessed. It had been that special moment, gazing up at the heavens, when she’d felt that connection with Finn, unaware that from that moment forward their futures would be forever linked. It seemed as though the heavens had smiled down on them both and offered them a blessing.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Carrie whispered, worshipping him with her eyes, loving him so much it felt as though her heart were about to crack wide open.
“Oh, yes, I’m here and I’m not going away. I doubt Sawyer is talking to me any longer, and even Hennessey looks at me with disgust.” He studied her, his gaze delving into hers. “I hardly know myself any longer.”
“Oh, Finn, I love you so much.”
He brushed the hair from her forehead. “Answer me truthfully, Carrie. Would you seriously consider resigning from your job with the newspaper?”
This wasn’t a difficult question. Carrie nodded. Her ultimate goal had always been to eventually return to Seattle. “I don’t have to work for a newspaper to be a writer. I’d even be happy freelancing from home.”
He hugged her close. “My home is wherever you are. I think to be fair to us both, we can divide our time between Seattle and Alaska.”
“You’d be willing to do that?”
Finn smiled down on her and kissed her again. “I want the opportunity to get to know my mother, and this will give you a chance to be close to your own family. We’ll make it work, Carrie.”
“My home is with you and with Hennessey, and then later, of course, we’ll be adding to the family.”
His head came back up. “You want another dog?”
Carrie slapped his chest. “No, silly. Children.”
“Oh, yes,” he said with a chuckle.
Carrie nestled her head beneath his chin. “Things are right between you and your mother?” Although she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off Finn, Carrie had noticed the happiness that seemed to radiate off Joan. It seemed both Carrie and Joan were having the best Christmases of their lives.
“You were right about her. She’s never stopped loving me.”
“You seem to have that effect on women.”
He brought her mouth close to his. “Certain women, at any rate.”
Finn spread nibbling kisses down the side of her neck. “This man loves this woman.”
“Good, because this is just the beginning for us. And this time it’s for keeps.”
“For keeps,” Finn repeated. He was willing to admit he’d been a fool. He’d assumed he’d be able to walk away from Carrie and not look back. At the time, it’d seemed the prudent choice. He knew when he found the article on her laptop that Carrie had never intended to submit it. Finding it gave him all the excuse he needed to break it off. Only she’d called his bluff. She’d forced him to lie. He wasn’t proud of the things he’d said to Carrie. At the time, it had seemed necessary. Finn had believed that it would be tough the first couple of days but within a short amount of time he’d be over her.
Miserable didn’t even begin to describe his feelings. He felt lost, cast adrift with nothing to anchor him. Before Carrie had entered his life, everything seemed perfectly fine. He’d been content. Happy, even—and perhaps he was.
Then she was dumped into his well-ordered existence—no thanks to Sawyer O’Halloran—and everything changed. All at once he became aware of the dark shadows in what had once been light, the isolation he’d accepted rather than deal with the past and his parents’ divorce. At first he assumed he could let her go, and he later realized he was making the same mistake as his father with his unwillingness to compromise. His father had been determined to stand his ground. If Joan loved him, she would accept his terms, and as a result he’d ended up lonely and bitter. Finn refused to repeat history. He loved Carrie, and if loving her meant spending part of the year in Seattle, then that was a small sacrifice in order to make her his wife. In order to make her happy.
His thoughts returned to his ridiculous efforts to sever the relationship. Carrie knew him far too well, had refused to believe he didn’t love her. How easily she saw through his ploy. She’d read him perfectly. If that wasn’t bad enough, she’d been unwilling to settle for his token apology by giving her the opportunity to write the article about him that everyone seemed to want.
This woman could be stubborn. It didn’t help matters that she held his heart in the palm of her hand. Still, he fought it; still, he assumed he could go on without her. What a laugh that turned out to be.
It wasn’t only Carrie, either. In all the years since his mother had walked out, not once had Finn felt the need to connect with her again. She’d left him and his father. Pride demanded that he have nothing more to do with her, despite her repeated efforts to reach out to him.
Feeling alone and lost, Finn had to accept that as difficult as it was to admit, he needed his mother. His children would need their grandmother.
Carrie wanted children. The thought both thrilled and terrified him.
“You’ve got a funny look,” she said, gazing up at him, frowning slightly.
Finn kissed her again, and a sense of happiness and joy filled him until it felt as if he could soar. “We’re going to be just fine.”
“Yes, I know,” Carrie agreed.
Her parents and his mother came back into the room, and Carrie scooted off his lap. They stood and he slipped his arm around her waist.
Her mother’s eyes were moist with tears, and she held her fingers against her lips, watching the two of them.
“Are you going to love our Carrie?” Nick Slayton asked.
“Dad!” she protested, clearly embarrassed.
“With all my heart,” Finn promised, keeping her close against his side.
“That’s good enough for me.” Nick thrust out his hand for Finn to shake. “Welcome to the family.”
The two men clasped hands, and their gazes held for an extra-long moment as understanding passed between the two of them.
Oh, yes, this was definitely going to be the best Christmas of Finn Dalton’s life.