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I press my lips in stony silence.

“Well, you’re going to have to hear it, lady.”

I exhale.

“First I have to say I missed you,” he says, his voice dropping. “You’re like an insistent little trickle of water, soaking into every inch of my life. I can’t look anywhere without noticing your absence, Regina.”

Just hearing his voice makes me oddly emotional and makes my throat ache. “I missed you too, Tahoe.”

He drags a hand over his bearded jaw, drops it and fists it at his side. “You just up and disappeared. Don’t do that to me again, Regina.”

“I didn’t disappear, I’ve been right here. I didn’t think anyone would mind.”

“I’m not anyone, and I was worried about you.”

He looks restless, all of his energy crackling around him, around us as he silently wills me to understand with his gaze.

“Okay,” I say.

“So,” he spreads his arms out, “girl,” he laughs, “you’ve checked me so hard I can’t even think straight anymore. You’ve been checking me left and right this whole year and I fucking can’t even think straight anymore, Regina.

“I love you.” He looks at me. “I love every part of you. I could be a thousand miles away from you, stay away from you my whole life, put an ocean between us, take a million other women in my arms, and you’re still the one I want, the only woman on my mind.”

He scrapes his beard. He seems nervous, rubbing the back of his neck restlessly.

“See, I was in love once. I never thought I was good enough for her. We were kids, puppy love.” His voice lowers. “But even in puppy love, love shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t need you to change.” His eyes shimmer like blue lightning. “I’ve learned that with you. Love should make you feel good about yourself and about the person you are when you’re with the one you love. Love should make you feel accepted as you are.”

His stare bores into me. “You know my every side, you’ve seen me in every way, and you let me see you the way you let no man see you. And somehow we still crave to be with each other. Not because I’m broken and I make you feel good about yourself…because I’m not broken with you. You get me and I get you. I accept you, I cherish you. I fucking revere you. Just as you are. I want no other woman in my life and I want you to have no man but me. So I love you.” He exhales rapidly. “And I fucking love the way you look right now. I love that smile of yours most of all.”

I’m both smiling and crying and getting the little makeup I’m wearing all messed up. “Did you have to say this right now?”

His arms engulf me in the most delicious way. “Yes. Now.”

He rubs my lips with his thumb. He lifts me and twirls me like he did when he said I was his lucky charm, then he stops and slowly lets my body drag down the length of his as he sets me on my feet.

Our eyes latch, so intently and with such hunger that our laughter drifts off.

His smile fades as my own smile fades.

A pool of yearning swirls in my stomach as I notice the shifting blues in his eyes until I can hardly see anything at all, only his pupils, dark as night and eating me alive.

He squeezes the arm around my waist. He captures my face in his other hand, looking at my mouth. His palm is warm.

I lift my head.

Before I know it, I’m kissing him.

We both make a sound; he makes a deep, hungry sound, and I release a startled whimper, but we won’t tear our lips away. He takes my hand in one of his and puts it on the back of his neck, drawing me closer. And he nibbles my lips, and he kisses my lips, and everything I knew about kissing is shattered as sparks shoot throughout me, fire races in my veins, my toes curl, my heart pumps, my whole body is one giant aching ball of need.

He gathers me close and I can’t stop kissing him.

He scrapes his thumb over my lips as if to make sure there’s no lipstick between us, only his lips and my lips. He looks at me, his chest stretching his shirt with each breath.

I could not possibly be more receptive as he starts to move his hand down my curves, savoring me.

My hips roll achingly toward his body.

He nibbles my earlobe, unleashing shivers down my spine. “Tell me you want me. Or I’ll make you tell me. Tell me now, Regina.”

“I want you, T-Rex.”

“And I love you.” He grabs my face in both hands and kisses me, adds teeth to the kiss. He nibbles my lip and then he sensuously bites it and tugs it gently before releasing, and it feels sore and loved and I want him to do it again. He holds my face framed in his callused palms, his eyes boring into me. “I revere you. I’m addicted to you. Tell me you know that. Huh?”

“I know that,” I say, with effort.

He hugs me to him and inhales my hair, then tips up my face, smoothing his tongue over my lips to open them.

I open my lips farther, lost in the feel of being in his arms and being kissed like this and feeling his hair between my fingers and how much he wants me.

I can’t get over the taste of him. The heat of him, and how it seeps through our clothes and to my skin. His hands trail over my backside, spreading to engulf all of me.

We take a moment to breathe and watch each other with an intensity that makes his breath become deeper, mine faster, and we’re both so completely serious. As serious as we’ve ever been.

He spreads a hand over my face, looking at my mouth, his palm engulfing nearly half my face, and I lift my head to kiss him again.

I aim for his jaw, but Tahoe turns his head just the necessary inches to catch my lips with the center of his mouth.

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