Stunned, she listened to the words with a hope she needed to squash. She opened her mouth to say something terrible and awful and cruel. “What if it takes years?”
He rocked back on his heels. “That’s okay. You’re worth it.” His eyes glittered. “We’re worth it.”
She stuck her chin up in the air, refusing to get lost in his pretty words. “I don’t believe you. Now leave me alone so I can enjoy my coffee in peace.”
He handed her the envelope. “This is for you. I told Cal no grand gestures, but this was different. I wanted to do this.”
“You didn’t have to fix my front steps,” she grumbled.
“Yes, I did,” he said softly. “Because I want to take care of you.”
He left her on the porch, simmering with unresolved tension and rioting emotions. Damn him. Why couldn’t he just go away like a normal man? She ripped open the envelope and took out the piece of paper.
A star has been chosen and named in your honor . . .
Raven Bella Hawthorne
Ah, shit. He’d named a star after her. It was the most romantic gesture a man had ever made to her, but like the enemy of Moses, she hardened her heart and refused to get all weak and soft and girly.
Raven didn’t know what to do.
She sat on the leather couch in her living room and tried to analyze the whirling array of emotions clutching her body. It had become more than a game now. Dalton had been seriously pursuing her for almost three months, with no signs of slowing down or getting frustrated. The open affection and love glowing from his ocean-blue eyes tempted her to give in and surrender. But the raw pain of his brutal rejection still ached.
He seemed different. More centered, as if he accepted his feelings with an ease he’d never shown before. There was no more fighting or pretending. He told her every day with actions and words what she meant to him, and that he didn’t want to let her go.
Was it enough? Was it time to take another leap and hope he caught her?
Raven reached for her cell, dialed the familiar number, and prayed she’d get an answer. The voice that came on the line was one she both trusted and admired.
“’Bout time you surfaced.” The sleepy feminine grumble reminded Raven of all the times she’d tried to rouse Izzy before noon, mostly so they could get into more mischief together.
“I’m in trouble.”
She heard the rustle of movement, then Izzy spoke again, serious. “Tell me everything.”
“It’s a guy.”
She gave a snort. “Duh. It’s always a guy. Dalton? I thought it was over.”
“I did, too.”
“Tell me everything,” she repeated.
Raven did. She spilled the whole story about the letter, Dalton’s never-ending crusade to win back her heart, and her own struggles to trust again. Izzy did what she did best. She listened.
When Raven fell silent, her spirit lightened. Nothing like unloading on your best friend for a quick therapy appointment.
“I’m so glad you learned about your dad, babe. Do you feel better?”
“God, yes. I feel like I can finally close the door on a question that kept haunting me. But now I don’t know if Dalton was meant to be mine for always, or just for a little while. Maybe we met to solve the mystery, but we’re not fated for long term?”
Izzy snorted again. “What have I always told you?”
Raven laughed. “Don’t leave anything to chance or fate. She’s a real bitch.”
“Exactly. Why aren’t you listening? As I learned in rehab, everything is a choice. You choose to love or walk away. To forgive or keep resenting. To stay or leave. To be happy or miserable. It’s time to make a choice, Raven. Now, maybe fate had a way of stepping in to make sure you met, but after that, it’s all on you. Do you still love him?”
The truth rose up inside, refusing to be denied. “Yes.”
“Can you take the leap again? I gotta give the guy credit; not many men would’ve stuck this long. He’s not a crazy stalker, is he?”
“No! He’s beautiful to look at, Izzy. Golden hair and blue eyes, and his arms—all I can say is arm porn.”
“But he’s gentle and kind. He’s really funny, and no matter how sarcastic I get, he just grins and teases me back.”
“Good, ’cause you can be a real bitch.”
“And he respects my job. He doesn’t give me lip service, he really helped make the bar better, and he encourages me. Oh, and when I kicked the gunman that held up the bar, he didn’t get all ego on me and insist I should’ve waited for help. He was proud and supportive.”
“Dalton sounds like he’s a good fit for you. Are you calling me to hear my opinion? To have me tell you what to do? Or to confirm the decision you were going to make anyway?”
The knowledge burst and shimmered around her. Her friend was so damn smart. Izzy knew her well; it was only a matter of time before she’d come to the one conclusion that was possible, since the first day she’d met him and he’d asked for a bottle of Jack.
“I don’t want to give up on him. On me. On us.”
“That’s what I thought. Gonna make him suffer any longer? ’Cause if you need more time, make him work for it.”
She took the phone and opened her door. The night sky exploded with stars, and Raven slowly smiled. “I think it’s time I let him off the hook.”
“Good for you. When are you coming to visit me in Verily?”
“Soon. I’ll bring Dalton. You’ll love him. Tell Liam I said hello and that he has the smartest woman on earth in his arms.”
“I’ll make sure to relay the message. Take care of yourself, babe. Peace out.”
She ended the call. Watched the stars for a while. A faint voice drifted to her ears, whispering through the darkness.
But if it’s your road to follow, take it.
She smiled and hugged herself. “Yes, Papa.”
It was time to go see Dalton.
Dalton heard the sound again, and frowned. Sitting up in bed, he strained his ears, listening in the silence.
Something was hitting the windows.
He padded naked over to the balcony doors, which he’d closed to keep in the heat. Squinting, he peered through the glass. Was a bird hitting it? He doubted a robber would use a ladder that high. Escape wouldn’t be too easy.
He pushed open the doors and stepped outside.
Everything slowed, stopped, then restarted again with a lurch. Raven stood below the balcony, her hands full of rocks, and motioned for him to come down. In seconds, he flung on a pair of shorts, then raced down the stairs and past the dogs, who gave him a grumpy glare before plopping their giant heads back down in their beds to go to sleep.
He tore down the path and stopped in front of her. Dressed in jeans and a baby-blue T-shirt that emphasized the perfect swell of her breasts, she cocked a hip and studied him as if she were out for a casual evening stroll. Across town.
“Are you okay?” he huffed out, trying to calm his racing heart.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Her heated gaze raked over his bare chest and legs. His skin tingled where she lingered, as if she’d run her hands over him. “Whatcha doing?”
His brow lifted. “Umm, sleeping. It’s one a.m. What are you doing?”
“Having a revelation.”
A mixture of nausea and excitement churned his gut. Was she here to finally tell him to go away forever? Was she tired of him following her around, trying to gain her forgiveness? Was she ready to move on with another man who hadn’t been stupid enough to hurt her? He tried to swallow, but there was no spit left in his mouth. “Oh. I guess revelations are good for this time of night. Are you here to share it with me?”
He waited. She didn’t say anything, just kept looking at him with a hungry she-devil sort of gleam in her dark eyes. The moonlight played in her hair, which was wild and curly around her face. He didn’t want to imagine his life without her, and at that moment, Dalton didn’t know what he’d do if she announced it was completely, irrevocably, definitely over.