Page 29 of The End of Faking It

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Abruptly he turned, facing the window. The plane waited out on the runway, the luggage carts were driven warp speed by the baggage handlers. And with her fingers she squeezed her ragged tissue into a tighter and tighter ball.

She heard him clear his throat but still he said nothing. Her doubts returned—had she just freaked him out? Was he regretting what he’d said earlier already?

But then he held out his hand. The simple gesture seemed to offer so much. She drew a sharp, shuddering breath and put her hand on his.

He guided her to stand beside him. With his other hand he scooped up the handle of her case, wheeling it behind them—away from the flight queue.

She couldn’t really see where they were going, the tears still fell too fast. And she kept her head down, unsure if she could believe this was actually happening or if she’d gone delusional.

‘The great thing about airports is that they have hotels very close by.’ He sounded raspy. He matched his pace to hers—slow—but kept them moving steadily. ‘You need a shower and a rest, Penny. You look beat. And I need…’ He stopped and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and began walking again. ‘We’ll fly tomorrow.’

They went out of the doors and straight into a taxi.

‘How did you find me?’ she asked once Carter had instructed the driver.

‘Been stalking you all day.’ His hand tightened.

‘Why did you wait so long?’

His expression twisted. ‘I thought you were going to go somewhere else. I sat there and waited. It was torture. Every minute I expected you to just get up and go to the counter and buy a ticket who knew where. But then you did and you went to that departure lounge and I had to see if you were really going to do it.’

‘It was the only place I could go.’

He was silent a long moment. ‘Why did it take you so long to realise?’

‘Because I was scared.’

‘Of what?’

‘My feelings for you.’ Her whisper could hardly be heard. ‘Your feelings for me.’

He turned his head sharply, but the taxi stopped, interrupting them. But it took only a few minutes to book into the hotel, another couple to ride the lift and then be in privacy.

She walked into the middle of the room—needing to say her piece before passion overtook her mind. ‘I don’t want you to feel like you have to rescue me, Carter. I don’t want your pity.’

‘I have no intention of rescuing you. I want to rescue myself.’

That startled her. ‘From what?’

‘From a life of meaningless flings.’ He shrugged and looked sheepish. ‘In fact there wouldn’t be any more flings anyway. I don’t want to sleep with another woman ever. Only you. So, you see, you have to rescue me from a life of celibacy and terminal boredom.’

‘Carter—’

‘I’m not the person I was a couple of weeks ago,’ he said quickly. ‘I believe in you like I’ve never believed in another woman. I trust you like I’ve never trusted another woman. You make me want to love and be with just one woman.’

She swallowed. Yeah, she still couldn’t quite believe that. ‘I’m hardly exciting. I’m not flashy or amazingly talented or anything. I’m just a temp PA.’

He walked nearer. ‘You want to know what you are, Penny?’ He reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. ‘You’re warm, you’re funny. You’re competitive, you definitely have your ball-breaker moments. Sometimes you’re misguided but you’re passionate in everything you do. You have such heart. You can’t hide it. And I want it.’

But it was still a very scared heart.

‘You’ll like Melbourne,’ he said. ‘We can find a house. My apartment is nice but we need more space and our own private pool and a deck big enough to dance on so you can have raves at home.’ He winked. ‘It takes a couple of weeks to organise the licence but we’ll get married as soon as it’s possible.’

She shook her head, had to interrupt the fantasy at that point. ‘Carter, that’s crazy talk. We’ve only known each other a week.’

‘Nearly two,’ he corrected.

‘Yeah, and I’ve been on my best behaviour.’

Laughter burst from him—just a brief shout. She gave his shoulder a little push, but inside the fear was resurging. This was happening too fast—he’d changed his mind too fast; he might change it back again just as quick.

‘I’m serious. You can’t go making a decision like this so quickly. I’m a cow. I get moody. I get itchy feet.’

‘Okay.’ He gripped her just above the elbows and pulled her close. ‘Here’s the deal. You move to Melbourne and move in with me. I’m making my claim public and I’m proud to. Give us six months to settle, and then I’m asking you again. I guarantee we’ll be even happier by then. There’ll be no answer but yes.’

‘Six months is still too soon.’ It was still lust-fuelled infatuation territory—for him anyway. For her, well, her heart had long been lost to him already.

‘It isn’t. You know it isn’t. You can trust me. There’s nothing about you that’s going to put me off. I already know you’re not perfect, Penny. No one is. But we can both be better people together.’

She couldn’t move, too scared to blink in case she was dreaming this. Was she really this close to having everything? Still the shadows in her heart made her doubt.

‘Six months to the day, sweetheart,’ he said firmly. ‘And I’ll tell you what else.’ His hands firmed up too. ‘I’m taking you home. You take my hand and we go to your parents’ anniversary party Matt told me about. And you show me that tree. We’ll face it together, and maybe we’ll plant something under it. A bulb or something so every spring a new flower will grow and then it’ll die and then another will grow. You like to leave the flowers to grow, right? But we’ll grow too—we’ll get on with life together. And maybe in a year or two we’ll grow a family together.’

Penny pressed her curled hands to her chest, unable to say anything, unable to blink the searing tears away.

‘I know you’re scared.’ He gently cupped her face. ‘But I’ll be with you and I won’t let you down.’

She pressed her cheek into his palm. ‘I don’t want to let you down either.’

‘You won’t. Give us the time. You know this is right. You know how happy we’re going to be. We already are. You just have to let it happen.’

‘You have the details all worked out.’

‘I do.’ His gaze dropped for a moment. ‘You once promised me honesty. Will you give me it now?’

‘Yes.’ That was the least she could give him.

He paused, seeming to consider his words. ‘Do you really…want me?’

Her eyeballs ached, her temples, her throat and all the way down her middle right to her toes—every cell in her system screamed its agony. ‘Oh, yes,’ she cried. ‘It hurts so much.’

‘It doesn’t have to hurt, sweetheart.’ His arms crushed her tight. ‘It doesn’t have to.’

He lifted his head so he held her gaze, seeing right into her. And she should have been afraid. For a second the panic swept up in a wave inside her because he saw it all. How deep her longing went. But then he kissed her.

And then, for the first time, his patience left him.

‘I need to be with you,’ he groaned. ‘I need to feel you.’

Now she saw his vulnerability. Saw just how much her leaving would have hurt him. How much he’d been hiding from her—or more that she’d been too blinded by fear to be able to see. How much he wanted her, and wanted to care for her.

He whipped off his top, undid hers too. His hands shook and fumbled to unzip her skirt and slide it off. His breathing roughened, his hands roughened.

So she helped and soon she was naked and he was naked and warming her. He didn’t kiss her all over, didn’t tease or torment her with his fingers or tongue. He just held her close and kissed her as if there was nothing else on earth he’d ever want to do, as if he needed her more than anything.

She loved the weight of him on her. The way he held her hair hard so he could kiss her. The way he ground his body and soul into her. He moved—all power and passion and pure frantic force. He held—truly, tenderly, tightly held her as he poured his want and need and love as deeply into her as he could. And she clung, feeling the sublime beauty between them, so awed that they could make such magic together. And then there was no room for thought. She was reduced to absolute essence—pure emotion.


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