Page 30 of The End of Faking It

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‘I’m sorry,’ he panted. ‘I just couldn’t hold back.’

She turned towards him and smiled.

He lifted his head slightly from the pillow, his eyebrows shooting up. ‘No way.’

She nodded.

‘You’re not just saying that?’

‘I’ll never fake it with you. Never have. Never will.’ She gazed at him. ‘I loved it. I loved feeling how desperate you were to touch me.’

‘I’ve been desperate to touch you since the minute we met.’ It wasn’t a teasing comment, but honest vulnerability.

She snuggled closer, so content she thought she might burst. And the fantasy he’d painted for her rose in her head.

‘You really want children?’ she wondered aloud—her heart still stuttered over that step too far into the realm of paradise.

‘Can’t have Nick acting all spoilt like he’s an only child. He needs a nephew or niece to give him a run for it,’ he joked. But the next second he went totally sober again. ‘I never thought I wanted them. Or marriage. You know that. But it took meeting the one woman who’s so right for me to make me realise just how much I do want those things. The problem before was that I hadn’t met you. Now I have. So now I know.’

The most incredible feeling of peace descended on Penny—as if he’d soothed every inch of her, inside and out. With utter serenity and certainty, her faith blossomed in the strong man beside her. In herself. In what they already shared and could yet share if she let them.

She shifted position, curling even closer and resting her head on his chest.

‘Your heart is beating so fast.’ She swept her hand across his skin, feeling the strong thudding beneath. ‘Must be all that coffee.’

Carter let out a helpless grunt of laughter. ‘No. It’s you. All you.’

He slid his hand down her arm, down the slim wrist, until his palm pressed over hers. He bent his fingers and felt her mirror the action, locking their hands together.

‘I love you,’ she finally whispered. ‘I love you so much. I want to live with you at my side.’

‘Then that’s where I’ll be.’ Carter trembled. Having never before in his life trembled, he trembled now as he felt her absolute acceptance of him. And of every ounce of love he had to offer.

Their future had just been born.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Five and a half months later.

PENNY sat glued to her laptop, trying to fritter away the last hour before Carter got home. Thank heavens that in New Zealand Matt was still at work and she could instant message him.

Have you asked that cute bookstore girl out for a date yet?

Working up the courage. Concentrate on your own love life.

Working up the courage here too.

Why are you scared? He’ll love it. He loves you. He put up with Mum and Dad fawning for an entire week for you. Case proven.

Still scared. OK, excited too. Very excited.

Bordering on TMI.

Ha-ha. Wish it was over already.

‘Where are you?’

Penny jumped as Carter called out downstairs. She hadn’t even heard the door. A stupidly happy giggle bubbled out, even though her heart started thudding so fast it threatened to dance right out of her chest.

Have to go. He’s here.

She slammed her laptop shut and raced down the stairs to meet her so very real man. Nervous as she was, she couldn’t stop her smiles, lifting her face to kiss him. He was earlier than she’d asked him to be. But then he always gave her more than she asked for. And she loved him for that.

‘So why do you need me home from work so early?’

‘An adventure,’ she said, her mouth cabin-bread dry. ‘I’m driving,’ she said. ‘You just sit back and enjoy the ride.’

He followed her out to his car. ‘A mystery tour?’

‘Yes.’ She bit her lip but still couldn’t stop smiling. It was that or cry with the nerves.

He’d been right, of course, that day in the airport hotel. Everything had got better. They’d visited her parents, she’d gotten to know his dad and his wife and little Nick. They saw Mason regularly and his company had weathered the skimming scandal no problem. Even the sex between them continued to blossom—she’d never have thought that could possibly improve. But it had. She’d fallen in love with Melbourne too. She temped—short-term contracts—refusing to work for Carter, claiming she needed to maintain an element of independence. Something she knew he wasn’t entirely happy about. But he had absolutely no cause to worry.

She, on the other hand, was still nervous.

She drove the route she’d been along a million times already. The last fifty times she’d rehearsed this moment in her head. But the reality wasn’t anything like she’d imagined. Every cell was so aware and on edge it was as if she had acute vision and hearing and a heart still beating way too fast.

But in a good way. She wanted it to be so good.

It was the very end of winter, so the garden was at its most dormant phase. But still so very beautiful—private, tranquil and spacious. She walked slightly ahead of him, hoping he didn’t mind the dropping temperature of the late afternoon. She showed him the lawn, pointed out the pathways and the water features of the by-appointment-only private grounds that had been built by an older couple—wonderfully mad visionaries whom Penny had gotten to know and adore.

‘In six months it’ll be summer and there’ll be so much colour.’ She gestured wide around her. ‘Flowers everywhere.’ She turned back to face him. ‘I won’t need a bouquet because we’ll be in the midst of one.’

‘A bouquet?’ A half-step behind, he didn’t take his eyes off her.

‘Yes…’ She swallowed. ‘I wanted to know if…’ She took a breath. ‘Will you marry me? Here? Then?’

He didn’t move.

Nor did she.

It was one of those moments that took for ever but where the anticipation was a painful, heart-stopping pleasure. A moment she’d treasure the rest of her life. Because as she watched, the smile stole into his blue and green and gold eyes. It spread to his mouth. And his whole face filled with that rakish, irresistible charm.

‘Yes.’

She simply fell into his wide open arms, struggled to get her own around him so she could hold on tighter than ever, kissing him with every particle of passion she had.

Eons later, she managed another breathless question. ‘You don’t mind I beat you to it?’

‘I like it most when you beat me to it.’

She giggled and pressed her hot face into his neck as she whispered, ‘I wanted to ask you. I wanted to offer you everything I have.’

Because he’d already given his all to her and she knew it and she wanted to be an equal match for him.

He tugged her hair so she looked back up at him.

‘I’m honoured you asked,’ he said, intensely sincere. ‘I know what you’re saying.’

That she truly believed in him, in them and finally in herself.

‘I want you to understand how happy I am.’ She smiled softly through a trickling tear.

‘I do.’ He smiled back. ‘And nothing would make me happier than to be your husband. We’re a really good team, Penny.’

Her smile spread. ‘You do realise this means more time with my parents.’

‘More time with my step-mother,’ he countered.

‘You know she’s lovely.’

‘Just as you know your parents are lovely. And so is Matt.’

She nodded vigorously and they both laug

hed.

The difference in her life was so dramatic—full of family, full of fun—real, every day and every night joy. It was because of her anchor—the strongest, most loving man. And the most shameless.

Because now he swept her back into his arms and took control of the situation. ‘I’m so glad we’ve got you over your dislike of public displays.’

But there was no one around to watch him pick her up and carry her out of the chill wind, into the glass building that housed the exotic plants in the cold season. And there, under the bowers of some giant green monstrosity of a plant, they made sweet, perfect, sizzling love.


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