“So this is what one does when he has simply given up on life.” Zeke stood in the doorway of my workshop and I didn’t need to turn around to see the smile in his voice. “Interesting. I would’ve imagined more beer bottles and fast food boxes. But hey, whatever works.”
“What are you doing here? Maddie kick your sorry ass to the curb already?” They thought they were being so slick and they’d done a good job of staying under the Belle Musique gossip radar, but they weren’t fooling anyone who knew them.
Zeke didn’t miss a beat. “I have no idea what you mean. Did Vivi bop you upside the head too?”
I smirked at his avoidance technique. “No but I’m making progress. What about you?”
“Two steps forward and one step back, my man. What are you working on?”
“Something special. For Vivi.” It was all but done. Another layer of gloss and it would be ready. Hopefully, I would be ready too. “So, what’s up?”
“Just came to make sure you’re doing all right. Norah says you’ve been sad and that I should probably come buy you a beer.”
I barked out a laugh at his delivery, which I imagined was close to exactly what Norah had said. “I’m not sad. I was in planning mode and now I’m putting my plan into action.”
“Can I hear this grand plan?” I could hear his skepticism and I didn’t blame him, not really. I hadn’t put much effort into any personal relationships since Nanette, so Zeke was right to be worried.
“It’s simple. She thinks that I don’t want a relationship and I don’t, but I want her. So I have to show her. Easy peasy.”
Zeke slapped one hand on my work table and doubled over with laughter. “Easy peasy? Please tell me you’re not taking relationship advice from an eight-year-old?” His gasping, amused laugh had my irritation boiling. “You are doomed.”
“You’re really a good friend, Zeke.”
“Sorry,” he said, still gasping and choking on his laugh.
“Yeah, you sound really sorry. Dick.”
Zeke finally got himself under control and wiped sweat from his brow. “So, you’re showing her that you’re for real?”
“Yep. And this gift is part of it.” There were a few more elements and since Zeke was here under the guise of helping, “What are you doing for the next few hours?”
He sighed and crossed his legs at the ankles. “What do you need?”
I grinned. “Since you know so much about women, I need you to come with me. Shopping.”
Zeke’s blond brows shone with mischief. “Anything you buy here in town will make it to Vivi before we get back to the car.”
“I know. That’s why we’re not shopping in Belle Musique. I’ll drive and you can stay for dinner.”
“No, can’t do. I have plans tonight. But I am prepared to offer my expertise on the female brain to help you dig your way out of the dog house.”
I laughed. “It’s more than the dog house, man, but that’s okay. I kissed her after dinner the other night and I’m still in this.” I felt it in the way Vivi had responded to my kiss. There wasn’t one second of hesitation or doubt when she kissed me back. It was almost instant, the way she opened for me and pulled me closer. I still had a chance and I was going to use the hell out of it to get Vivi to see things my way.
“Then let’s go.” Zeke smacked his hands and the sound echoed in the workshop. “But first change, you smell like you’ve been working the fields all day.”
“Asshole,” I muttered as I washed my hands and tossed the damp towel at his laughing face. “Ten minutes and we’re outta here.” I hurried into the bathroom and stepped into the shower, rinsing away hours of woodchips, dirt and sweat. My nerves got the better of me as I thought about what I was about to do but I pushed it down because I wanted this.
Nerves were a good sign. At least, I hoped so.
* * *
“What are you doing here?” Vivi looked up at me, her hair adorably mussed like I’d caught her sleeping. “What time is it?”
“Five. Were you sleeping?”
She nodded, still yawning as she stepped back to let me enter. “Yeah, I’ve been doing more walking around lately and the pain was bad earlier. I guess that pill knocked me out.”
“How are you feeling now?” It took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to just pick her up in my arms and carry her to the sofa.
“Better. Just a little sore still. What brings you by?” My gut twisted watching her struggle with the crutches but I kept my distance, knowing how important it was for Vivi to do this herself.
“You.” The more my plan came together, the less afraid I was to be honest about my feelings. She didn’t know, well, I would make sure she knew.
“Where’s Norah?” She was nervous, trying to gauge my plans.
“Sleepover at Sally’s, where I’m sure she’ll learn more inappropriate lessons on adult relationships.” At least Vivi laughed at my psychological pain. “I thought we could hang out under the stars.”
“Nash, I can’t.”
She wouldn’t be Vivi if she did anything easy. “I’m happy to carry you like a perfect little cabana boy.” The way her cheeks turned pink went straight to my cock but I ignored it and smiled at her.
“Cabana boys wear cabana outfits. Those little leopard print briefs, I believe.”
I smiled back. Playful Vivi was my second favorite Vivi. “You buy the briefs and I’ll wear them for you anytime. Only you, though.”
“Deal. I still don’t think it’s a good idea.” I could see the fear written in those beautiful green eyes and I wanted to vanquish it.
“Afraid you won’t be able to keep your hands off me? I’ll make you a deal, Vivi. Let me carry you outside and you can feel me up all you want but only until I put you down. Same applies for the ride back inside.” Her gaze heated when I said ride and I had to remind my body that we didn’t come here for that.
Not that we’d say no, just that wasn’t the plan.
“I’m sure I’ll manage,” she said and I stepped to her, taking her answer as consent to go outside.
“If you can’t, the offer still stands.”
She groaned but I caught the moment she gave in. Her shoulders relaxed and a small smile played around the corners of her mouth. “Fine. Let’s go. And don’t think of getting fresh.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Those green eyes slammed into mine and I didn’t even care that they were filled with disbelief because I would change her mind. “Wrap your arms around me.”
She glared but did as I said. “You’re pushing it.”
“Not yet, I’m not.” When I stood, Vivi was in my arms and my whole body sighed in relief. This was where she belonged. My fingers brushed against her thighs and I felt the shiver as it darted its way through her body.
“You should probably…oh, Nash.”
Hell yeah, I felt ten feet fucking tall at the breathless way she said my name. It was half anguish and half longing. “I did good?”
She nodded. “Really good.” I could see she was a little emotional so I took my time walking over to the table which was covered in candles. Her gaze swept over the candles to the fiesta bowls filled with chips, salsa and her favorite, avocado mango salsa. “Damn, but you don’t fight fair.”
“No, I don’t.” I set her on the lounger and stared at her for far too long. But she was beautiful. Bare-faced and beautiful. And wary as hell. I pressed a short, hot kiss against her lips just to erase that wariness from her eyes. “Don’t you forget it.”
A low sexy growl sounded behind me as I turned to take my own seat. “What’s all this about?”
“I told you, I wanted to hang with you. Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
She laughed. “No, you’re right. It’s just that usually you don’t put in the extra effort like this. Not that I’m complaining,” she said and pulled the guac closer to her.
“I’m glad you noticed.”
“Kind of hard to miss three dozen lavender roses delivered by a singing telegram.” Her words held no bite and even she couldn’t hide that wide smile. “Nice touch, by the way.”
“I’m glad it’s working. Have you stopped thinking about me yet?”
“Nope. Not yet.”
“Do you want to?”
She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, her gaze never leaving mine. “I have to.” She sincerely believed that which meant I needed to step up my game.
“Because we don’t want the same things, Nash. That’s why.”
“But what if we did?” I slid over so I was sitting on the edge of her lounge, lifting her legs so they rested across my lap. “What if you and I wanted the same thing? What excuse would you give me then?”
Her legs went still under my hands but only for a moment. “Why are you doing this?”
“Doing what? Trying to talk to you so we can reach some kind of understanding?”
Anger flared in her eyes and she tried to sit up but the pain in her hip stopped her. “I don’t want a goddamn understanding, Nash! I want you to want me for me. To want to be with me. Not because you’re getting sex out of it, not because we’re already married so we might as well.”
She stopped abruptly, and though I knew it wasn’t smart to push her when she was so close to kicking my sorry ass off her property, “What makes you think I don’t want you, Vivi? Because I do. I really fucking do.”
“No, you don’t.” She smiled but there was no joy in it. “You’re a good friend, and a good father, so I get why you think pretending you want this is good. Because it’s good for Norah, but I meant it when I said that I would always be there for her.” Her bottom lip trembled and it twisted in my gut to watch her try to be so strong. It hurt doubly that she felt she had to be that way in front of me. “I meant that.”
“And I mean this, Vivi. I love you. I am in love with you, stubborn woman that you are. I’ve been trying to show you but I see now that you’re determined to misread all of my actions.”
I blinked at her and frowned. “You heard me.”
“I did but I must be having a seizure because I thought you said that you loved me.”
I leaned forward and pressed my palm to her forehead. “Nope, no seizure. Everything’s fine. And I did say that I love you, because I do. Love you.” Gathering her hands in mine, I pressed my lips to her every finger. “I’ll keep telling you and showing you until you believe me, Vivi.”
“Is that what this is all about?”
“Yeah, what did you think?”
Vivi began blinking very fast and she swallowed hard as her skin flushed. “I thought you were doing all this because of Norah. I know you love her and you know I do too and I figured…well.” She stopped, reluctant to say what we both knew she was about to say.
“You figured I’d get her the one thing she wants that was in my power to give her?” I laughed. “I don’t know if I should be pissed you think so little of yourself or proud that you think I have that much power over you. Wait, do I have that much power over you? Can I just command you to love me back?”
She opened her mouth to speak and nothing came out so, with a confused frown, she snapped it shut. Vivi tried again but the words just wouldn’t come and I felt my own hope slowly begin to fade. “I don’t know what to say to that, Nash.”
“Then I have my answer, don’t I?”
“No. I mean this was the last thing I expected you to say.” I could see the truth of her words written on her face. She was confused. Shocked. Bewildered. But she didn’t look happy or repulsed. “I…need to gather my words.”
“Go ahead.” I stood and blew out each of the candles before turning to her and lifting her in my arms. “Just know that I’m not giving up, Vivi. It took me a while to see what was right in front of me but now that I have, I’m not giving up until you see the truth.”
“I need to gather my thoughts and…let your words sink in.” She put one hand to my cheek so softly, so gently I felt it all the way down to my soul. “I’m not blowing you off, I swear.”
“I believe you.” I did and when I laid her down on the sofa and pressed my chest against hers, I couldn’t resist brushing my lips against hers; just a small taste of sweet peach tea on her tongue, the tangy lime from the guac left me intoxicated. I wanted more. Needed all of her.
But now was not the time. “Breakfast tomorrow?”
She nodded and licked her lips, and that was as good an answer as I would get tonight. But as I pushed away from Vivi, who still wore a dazed look on her face, I felt hopeful. “Sure.”
“See you bright and early, Vivi. Sweet dreams.”
She snorted. “Like I’ll be able to sleep.”
I smiled one last time. “That’s okay too, because I know you’ll be thinking of me.”